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Thursday31 July 2014

Alan Colquhoun dies aged 91

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Tributes paid to architect and critic whose work spanned six decades

Alan Colquhoun has died aged 91.The architect and writer enjoyed a career spanning more than six decades and will be remembered for the significant contributions he made both in practice and as an architectural theorist and critic.

Colquhoun began his career at London County Council where his contemporaries included Alison and Peter Smithson and James Stirling. He joined Lyons Israel Ellis in the 1950s before going into practice with colleague John Miller in 1961. Colquhoun and Miller operated until 1990 and was responsible for projects including the Whitechapel Art Gallery.

While still in practice, Colquhoun embarked on a career in academia, lecturing at both the Architectural Association in the 50s and 60s and the then Polytechnic of Central London in the mid 1970s.

His students at the AA included Edward Jones of Dixon Jones. “He was always the best,” said Jones. “He was the best critic, extraordinarily incisive. He brought a real brand of excellence to reviews. And if anyone was spouting inarticulate rubbish he wouldn’t suffer fools.”

Colquhoun went on to teach in the USA, where he lectured at Princeton University from 1978, following a tradition established by other leading theorists including Colin Rowe and Kenneth Frampton.

His written work included a well-known “rigorous” review of Rogers and Piano’s Pompidou Centre, which contradicted the prevailing wisdom of the time. Christopher Woodward, another former student, said this exemplified his approach to architectural theory.

“He was one of a few people to bring a really serious critique to bear on the proposal,” said Woodward. “There wasn’t much serious criticism about - he established another plane of criticism.”

Colquhoun continued to produce a large body of theoretical work in later life, comprising both architectural essays and books, including Essays in Architectural Criticism and Modernity and the Classical Tradition. His last book, published in 2002, was Modern Architecture.

Barbara Weiss, who knew Colquhoun for many years, said it was this contribution to the study of architecture for which he would be most remembered. “He was, I’m sure, one of the most well respected architectural theoreticians,” she said.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • It's very sad - as a student I enjoyed reading Colquhoun's rigorous essays, mainly via the 'Oppositions' series and also found the same rigor in his and John Miller's practice work, when carrying out an undergraduate study of their refurbishment and remodeling of Townsend's Whitechapel Art Gallery.

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  • If architecture were rock and roll, this would be the equivalent of Charlie Watts dying.

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