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Tributes paid to ‘influential’ teacher David Dunster

David dunster webcrop
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Respected architecture academic David Dunster has died at the age of 73

Dunster was Roscoe Professor of Architecture of the University of Liverpool from 1995 to 2010, heading up the department for the first five years of that stint.

He was respected for implementing group work for student design projects, with four of his former pupils at the Bartlett going on to form Allford Hall Monaghan Morris. 

One of them, founding director Paul Monaghan, said: ‘Simon, Jonathan, Peter and I were very sad to hear this news. David was our tutor at the Bartlett and a long-time mentor and friend of the practice. He was a great influence on our lives and one of the people who inspired us to set up in practice in the late 80s. We will miss him.’

Dunster was born in Kent in August 1945 and studied architecture at the Bartlett, UCL, before later becoming a lecturer at the institution for nine years.

Architect Farshid Moussavi, who was taught there by Dunster, said: ‘As head of diploma in my final year at the Bartlett, he had a tremendous impact on my ideas about architecture and inspired me to teach alongside practising.

‘He taught me that architecture is connected to the world of philosophy and culture, and that its impact isn’t just through metrics. He seemed to be immersed in the world of books and I remember his eyes sparkling when he was discussing ideas!’

His way of teaching was quiet and modest

She added: ‘He rarely explained himself as a teacher or gave instructions for students to follow. His way of teaching was quiet and modest. He would create situations where we as students needed to negotiate our way through a project as if it were a real situation.

‘He treated everyone equally and with great generosity – if you had an idea, he would reach out and encourage you.’

Torsten Schmiedeknecht, deputy head of school at the University of Liverpool, said: ’During his time as head of department, David Dunster brought numerous critics and guests of high reputation and quality, from both practice and academia, to the school and thus created a vibrant teaching environment. He was very well connected and knew many well known architects personally.

’David was one of the last of his kind, namely incredibly knowledgeable on all things architectural and cultural, in particular western European 20th-century architecture, and a very enthusiastic, innovative and supportive teacher. Being well travelled, he carried a vast library of buildings he had visited in his head.’

Schmiedeknecht said Dunster gave him his first job.

’In one of my first years teaching part-time at Liverpool, when I was still living in London, he let me stay with him and his family overnight once a week for a whole semester. I remember those evenings like it was yesterday, when as a young lecturer I would be fed great food, wine and knowledge over the dinner table. Often there would be other guests invited and to me Wednesday evening chez Dunster was synonymous with great fun.

’He was highly educated and cultured man, and, apart from architecture, he had a very keen interest in art, music – he played the piano – and literature. He loved food – eating and cooking - and had many great restaurant tips from all over Europe up his sleeve.’

Dunster also held staff roles at London’s Kingston Polytechnic and South Bank University.

He was a visiting professor to Rice University in Texas and Chicago Circle Campus as well as being a visiting fellow to the University of Melbourne and the Architectural League of New York.

Dunster published a number of articles in the Architectural Review and other journals over a period spanning more than 30 years. He also wrote several books, including Architecture and the Sites of History, which he co-authored with Iain Borden.

In 2004 Dunster told the AJ that his favourite building was Borromini’s San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane in Rome. Within the same article he revealed himself to be a fan of Jane Austin’s novels as well as Federico Fellini’s films.

Asked his advice for architecture students, Dunster replied: ‘Treat authority with the contempt that it deserves; never talk about buildings you have not seen; and learn to read and write English.’

Dunster died peacefully on 11 January at The Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel after a short illness. He leaves a wife Charlotte and a son Arthur.

A funeral will be held at 2pm on 7 February at Golders Green Crematorium. This will be followed by drinks at Cozzo on Whitecross Street.

Tributes

Keith Williams of Keith Williams Architects

David was my tutor during my degree years at Kingston. Among his students around that time were Mike Russum, Richard Portchmouth, the late Richard Paxton, Heidi Locher and my former business partner Terry Pawson. Not a bad role call.

His unparalleled knowledge of, and passion for, architecture and the arts coupled with his sharp wit and keen intellect made him a formidable critic. In truth, we were all rather terrified of him come crit time but he was a brilliant analyst and an inspirational tutor. Always elegantly attired, his innate charm made him excellent company off duty and his ability to impart knowledge and inspiration was formidable. He instilled in us that trying to design great buildings is not for the faint hearted and he was absolutely right.

His sharp wit and keen intellect made him a formidable critic

David and I met on occasion over subsequent years and always enjoyed both reminiscences and keen debate on current issues.

He was a gifted educator and laid the basis for my future direction in architecture for which I am very grateful. My thoughts go out to his family and friends.


Mike Russum and Richard Portchmouth of Birds Portchmouth Russum Architects

David – you mercurial livewire….. passionate moralist….. your mesmerising and glorious spirit…. your expansive eclectic understanding … even complexity and contradiction ….all leading to your forensic dissections laced with effortless wit.

With your charismatic conspirators, Werner Kreis and Jon Corpe you transformed the sleepy pastoral backwater we inhabited at Kingston and opened up a glorious world of polemical cutting edge architecture. You had worked for James Gowan and also lived in a glittering Mies tower on Lake Shore Drive, Chicago. Your charm and precocious tenacity brought global stars including Michael Graves, Leo Krier and Vincent Scully to illuminate and expand our little world.

Your charm and precocious tenacity brought stars to illuminate and expand our little world

Thank you, David, for all of your generosity throughout our career - including the generous, illuminating and witty introduction to our retrospective exhibition at the Basle Architecture Museum. Alike so many, we have been indelibly enriched and inspired by you and your brilliant insights.

Hans van der Heijden, Dutch architect and urbanist

In 1998 when I was struggling to get my Europan 4 scheme built in Liverpool, Jonathan Sergison gave me the telephone number of David Dunster. ‘He is rather opiniated,’ he warned. That proved to be a British understatement. We had lunch in David’s favourite restaurant in a rundown shopping strip and he quarrelled. And I opposed. On the single occasion I did not, David cracked that he hated people agreeing with him. With un-British generosity, David offered me a lump sum for a teaching job. I could do anything I liked. We became friends.

I remember one particular dinner party in which I curiously, also mischievously, asked what David had provided the world with when he was in his Marxist cell. He knew he was trapped, but unhesitantly replied: ‘I read.’ The house was filled with hilarious laughter for at least 15 minutes to which David sourly joined us. But that characterised David adequately. He was a reader. He read books, situations, buildings, visual art, politics – quickly and thoroughly.

He read books, situations, buildings, visual art, politics - quickly and thoroughly

I have profited hugely from the resulting loose observations and opinions. Where the practising architect is convicted to optimism and can-do, David took a sceptical, reflective stance. He read and could crush problems to pieces, up to the point where I often could not imagine how to proceed from there. His erudition and scepticism also kept him from finishing the books he was perpetually working on. The natural habitat of David the Reader was the critique and that made him the excellent writer and teacher that he was.

I met him in Amsterdam six weeks before his death. Again he supplied me with rather Freudian observations which will have to remain a secret. The last thing he said was that I ate too quickly. And right he was. Again.


Peter Murray, chairman of the NLA

Your obituary understandably omits to include any reference to David’s role in the British Architectural Students’ Association (BASA) in the 1960s - there aren’t that many left who were involved.

He was acerbic even then but his intellectual rigour kept the organisation on its toes. Hard to believe now but architectural students then had a powerful voice (reinforced by two pages of editorial given free by the AJ). David was key to BASA’s influence and the respect in which it was held in Portland Place.

 

 

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