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Wilford: 'Gowan was a major inspiration and mentor'

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Michael Wilford pays tribute to fellow post-war architect James Gowan who died last week, aged 92

Michael Wilford

I joined the Stirling & Gowan partnership in 1960 as their first full time paid assistant immediately after they won planning permission for the Leicester University Engineering building. I worked with them for 3 years through to completion of the project, when they ran out of work and terminated their partnership.  Working with them was a lively and invigorating experience for a young architect. The lively debate and frequent arguments between  them on design issues was amazing to witness.

He was scrupulous in his attention to detail

James Gowan, despite his somewhat dour demeanour, had a sharp and wicked sense of humour. He was scrupulous in his attention to detail throughout all stages of design and construction. He had high standards and expectation of contractors. The documentation was impeccable and he expected the work to be carried out in strict accordance with it. He displayed disdain and contempt for any attempt to downgrade quality. He was brilliant at rebutting the regular spurious claims we received from the contractor for alleged shortcomings on the drawings and specification. I learned a huge amount from him about organising the design team and managing contracts.

James Gowan was also an excellent teacher and although I lost touch with him after the partnership split, I know many people who were tutored by him (including my daughter at the RCA) who speak fondly of his challenging but supportive style.

He was always something of a loner, preferring to carry out all aspects of the architectural task himself and appeared reluctant to delegate. I understand he kept his solo practice as small as he could.

He was a major inspiration and mentor in my early formative years as an architect. I owe him a great depth of gratitude and his passing is a sad loss to the profession. He will be sorely missed.

Previous story (AJ 15.06.15)

Obituary: James Gowan (1923 – 2015)


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