Leading figures have paid tribute to architectural writer and historian Gavin Stamp, who has died from prostate cancer aged 69
Stamp wrote numerous books, appeared on television and, under the pseudonym Piloti, penned the Nooks & Corners architecture criticism column in Private Eye.
He went to school at Dulwich College in south London between 1959 and 1967 and then studied at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he obtained a PhD in 1978 with a thesis reassessing the work of George Gilbert Scott, junior.
Stamp taught at Mackintosh School of Architecture from 1990 to 2003 and was an active heritage campaigner. He founded the Alexander Thomson Society in 1991 and was also a long-standing trustee and former chair (1983-2007) of the Twentieth Century Society.
Charles Jencks, the architectural historian and co-founder of the Maggie’s Cancer Care Centres, described Stamp as one of the few ‘independent voices on the architectural scene who could be relied on to say what he felt’ even though it might ‘not always be to my or other people’s liking.’
He added: ’[Stamp] was always worth listening to, or reading, partly because he stated his beliefs with such conviction. He had a distinctive writing style, rather like the man we both knew well and admired, John Summerson.
‘Pithy, succinct, elegant, opinionated and analytical with a strong sense and knowledge of history. He campaigned to save large parts of the British cities. He didn’t like the work of Stirling, Rogers and for instance Steven Holl, partly because it offended his taste for understatement and British reserve. We argued over this. Perhaps influenced by the Peterhouse historians such as David Watkin, his work could be polemical and also surprising – especially when he defended Modernists.
‘[Together we] did some ad-hoc work on our garden in Scotland, collecting discarded railroad parts to make a little white line in the woods. I shall always remember him with great affection.’
Stamp had been writing for Private Eye since 1978 and its editor Ian Hislop told the AJ that Stamp’s death was a ‘huge loss’ for the magazine.
‘I inherited Gavin – it was fantastic for a new editor to have someone like that,’ Hislop said. ’He was extraordinarily dedicated, never missing an issue even right at the end when he was ill. He wrote so well, had held academic posts and sat on so many societies but he also liked to create trouble. He genuinely devoted himself to this column – it was a life and a belief and an attitude.
‘He had an incredibly devoted readership and we always had letters about his column. When he wrote a piece about the Biggin Hill memorial chapel, we got the largest postbag we’d had for ages. The truth was that people went with him. If Gavin was interested then the reader would be. We also got plenty of legal threats as he was quite rude about many much-vaunted architects. He’ll be very hard to replace but I hope that we can do something in his spirit.’
Otto Saumarez Smith, architectural and urban historian, said on Twitter: ’What a terrible thing for the world to have lost Gavin Stamp. I was immensely privileged to have been taught by him and he was always supportive and generous. There is no better model for combining architectural scholarship and passionate activism.’
Former AJ editor and current chief executive of Open City Rory Olcayto said: ’Stamp is one of Glasgow’s great heroes – he sang the city’s praises when that great victorian city needed it most: during the 1980s as it sought to redefine itself after decades of post-War gloom.
’During his time living there, his spotlighting of Alexander ‘Greek’ Thompson – revealing the genius and beauty in his work – reminded us that there was way more than Mackintosh making up Glasgow’s rich architectural heritage. If the world was fair, there’d be plans being drawn up now for his friend Sandy Stoddart to create a sculpture of Stamp for George Square. He wasn’t a young man, but this is a loss to the profession and our culture, for sure.’
Glasgow-based architect and academic Alan Dunlop said: ’Gavin was a man of conviction and a true scholar with extensive knowledge of architectural history. He fought hard to have the work of Greek Thomson, especially, recognised for its artistic worth at a time when it was not considered sophisticated to do so. Whilst we did not always agree, I was happy to support and to underwrite the Alexander Thomson Tomb Memorial in the Southern Necropolis of Glasgow.
’I will miss the quality of his writing and his rare, oblique wit.’
Stamp’s books included Telephone Boxes (1989), Edwin Lutyens: Country Houses (2001), Britain’s Lost Cities (2007) and Gothic in the Steam Age (2015).
Elain Harwood, architectural historian at Historic England
Gavin had a wonderful ability to give powerful lectures that combined erudition with entertainment, which belied the fact that he could also be a shy man. I was always touched by his generosity and all the events he organised for the Twentieth Century Society, especially his annual foreign trips from Paris in 1989 to Havana in 2007 – as well as obvious architectural masterpieces we got to see so many unlikely places: power stations in Budapest, Ceausescu’s palaces in Bucharest and a roller coaster outside Copenhagen.
Catherine Croft, director of Twentieth Century Society
Gavin paid a pivotal role in the Society— a founder member of the Thirties Society in 1979, he was a very active long-term Chairman and continued to be involved right up to his death, contributing to our most recent books (both 100 Buildings and 100 Houses), where his pithy judgements combined the wit and deep knowledge of his best journalism. Although some of our more recent casework (such as the listing of Richard Rogers Lloyd’s building, and Stirling’s No 1 Poultry) called for the protection of buildings which themselves replaced ones he had previously championed, he was always willing to assess the architectural qualities of a building without prejudice.
He led an amazing series of international tours of Twentieth Century architecture for our members, to destinations including Budapest, New York and Ljubljana, at a blistering pace and with an energy and critical eye that always ensured fresh insights. The notes of his five Twentieth Society Society tours of war cemeteries across France, Belgium and Italy which has never been published can be downloaded here.
Cathy Slessor, former editor of the Architectural Review
Gavin first swung into my eyeline when I was working on The Architectural Review in the early 1990s. He contributed book reviews and longer pieces of criticism, distinguished by their eloquence and erudition. Peter Davey, the then editor, used to refer to him as ’Sir Gawain’, alluding perhaps, to his initial incarnation as a Young Fogey, though Davey himself was no slouch in this respect, regularly sporting a cravat and three piece suit. A photograph of a young Stamp similarly attired, posing in front of the National Theatre, suggests that Modernism is about to come in for a damn good thrashing. Yet there was more to Stamp than a veneer of fogeyism and a pettifogging obsession with the past.
His book reviews and longer pieces of criticism were distinguished by their eloquence and erudition
Like Dan Cruickshank, who during the 1970s squatted a Georgian terrace in Spitalfields to prevent it being demolished, Stamp was a militant historian, indignant at the municipal and corporate follies of neglect and destruction, which formed the basis of his regular ’Piloti’ column in Private Eye. As well as his beloved ‘Greek’ Thompson, Glasgow’s Presbyterian antidote to the sybaritic excesses of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Stamp took up cudgels on behalf of many less well-known figures. He was especially fond of the doughty, jobbing architects of the 18th and 19th centuries, quick to alert the world to the travesties of redevelopment and always pressing for survival and re-use.
Latterly, in the context of changing attitudes to Modernism and the emergence of younger writers in a more democratised critical milieu, his scholarly style and preoccupations might be seen as a bit remote and dogmatic, yet there is still the sense that he was held in regard by his successors. His death follows those of AR fellow travellers Peter Blundell Jones and Martin Meade, extinguishing yet another point of light in a generational constellation of architectural critics and historians.
Ben Derbyshire, RIBA President
Private Eye has always been my reading matter of choice on trains and planes and I have for years habitually turned first to Piloti to find the latest unsung treasures of our heritage Gavin Stamp was defending. I have no idea how Hislop will find a replacement as sensitive to the qualities of churches, pubs, council offices under threat and as fearless in his excoriation of philistinism. He was unique, and we were proud to have him as an Honorary Fellow of the RIBA.
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Incredibly sad. An absolute gent. A massive loss. The only bloke I ever met with a pocket watch who wasn't a wanker. He was very kind to me once when it really mattered. Mensch. https://t.co/vkMnvkZJWH— Ian Martin (@IanMartin) December 30, 2017
RIP the heroic Gavin Stamp. His combination of passionate enthusiasm and righteous anger remains a model for any architecture writer.— Ellis Woodman (@elliswoodman) December 30, 2017
What a terrible thing for the world to have lost Gavin Stamp. I was immensely privileged to have been taught by him, & he was always supportive & generous. There is no better model for combining architectural scholarship & passionate activism.— Otto Saumarez Smith (@OSaumarezSmith) December 31, 2017
We're heartbroken to learn of the death of Gavin Stamp. The hardworking champion of so many crucial causes, the Voice for so many of us, his appreciation of exactly what was important - always communicated with sensitivity & beauty - will be very deeply missed. Bless you Gavin. pic.twitter.com/tzyQea4nIC— BSMGP (@BSMGP) January 1, 2018
Very sorry to hear about the sad death of Gavin Stamp - the most gifted & perceptive chronicler, critic and champion of Britain’s urban civilization— Tristram Hunt (@TristramHuntVA) December 31, 2017
Devastated to hear about the death of Gavin Stamp. Such an inspirational writer, conservationist and speaker. The world of architectural history just lost a leading light and powerful voice.— Jon Wright (@jonmodern) December 30, 2017
Gavin Stamp, bus driver, Nov 2014. pic.twitter.com/daTxe653vO— gillian darley (@gilliandarley) December 30, 2017
Deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Gavin Stamp, founder of our @AThomsonSociety and a hero of architectural criticism and activism. He will be sorely missed, and leaves behind a mighty legacy that will hopefully inspire others to try and follow in his footsteps. pic.twitter.com/eSS9hbTvi8— Scott Abercrombie (@MrAbercrombie) December 30, 2017
@GSofA he was your finest architectural historian; funny, erudite, scathing, not bothered about when it was built but why it was important. Lit a fire in me as a student at the Mack. I spoke of his influence on Christmas morning opening my book on Ledoux. Goodbye RIP Gavin Stamp— Christopher Boyce (@MrBoyce) December 31, 2017
Sad about Gavin Stamp. Taught me everything I don't know about Modern architecture at the Mac. But everything about Greek Thomson.— Sam Jacob (@_SamJacob) December 30, 2017
Sad to hear of death of #GavinStamp at age 69. Once of @GSofA, #piloti of #PrivateEye & one time resident of 1 Moray Place (and hence former neighbour). A passionate force for architecture & conservation & slayer of urban vandalism wherever he found it. pic.twitter.com/5PQYY88TSv— Gerry Hassan (@GerryHassan) December 31, 2017
Very sad to hear of the death of Gavin Stamp, long time friend and supporter of C20, our Chairman for many years, leader of fabulous trips, pioneering historian, inspirational campaigner and joy to be with. We will miss him— catherine croft (@catherinecroft) December 30, 2017
Gavin Stamp was a giant amongst the conservation movement, and his absence will be fiercely fiercely missed. He was a hero of mine whom I had the privilege of working with on several occasions, and it is with such sadness that tonight I raise a glass to Piloti. pic.twitter.com/bDZbKNUCBq— Michael Fox (@MDFOXY) December 30, 2017
Sad to hear of the death of Gavin Stamp. Always a joy to read his essays on old + new architecture. Sharp as hell and made the built landscape so accessible to readers— Gabriella Bennett (@palebackwriter) January 1, 2018