Brian Henderson

Bon viveur and one half of the leadership of YRM during its pioneering years, internationalist and promoter of multi-disciplinary working

Sporting fine suits and a full head of white hair contrasting magnificently with his famously ‘expensive’ complexion, Brian Henderson was one of the stand-out characters of his generation of leading architects. Brian’s extraordinary constitution allowed him to enthusiastically pursue his interest in architecture and the very best things in life. He created a sequence of beautifully designed homes for his family and friends that were known for their generous hospitality. He also travelled extensively, combining these architectural adventures, and indeed his daily life, with lunches that often lasted into the evening. Brian’s character was rich in contrast. He communicated in clipped asides and humorous stories, often told at his own expense. He loved to escape his cosmopolitan London life for his Wiltshire home and to summer in remote Tiree. Being Scottish he also enjoyed the best malts and, on occasion, would sport tartan trousers – while warning against men in kilts.

As an architect Brian made his mark as one half of the duo (the other being his partner and lifelong friend David Allford) who led the second generation at architectural practice Yorke Rosenberg Mardall. Their vision of the firm’s future was defined when they worked together at the start of the Gatwick Airport project. There Brian developed his interest in the craft and design of the internal spaces and, as well as buildings, he went on to design many fine interiors and pieces of furniture. The scale and international nature of this project, allied to the cosmopolitan creative legacy of the founding partners – an Englishman, a Czech and a Finn – defined the duo’s pursuit of a new model of an architecturally and socially committed practice, later renamed YRM, that was supremely professional, international and eventually multi-disciplinary.

The scale and international nature of the Gatwick Airport project defined Henderson's and Allford's pursuit of a new model of an architecturally and socially committed practice that was supremely professional, international and eventually multi-disciplinary.

Brian was born in Scotland in 1928 and educated at Edinburgh University. He moved to London working briefly for Basil Spence before moving to YRM eventually retiring as chairman. During his five decades there Brian helped the practice shift from a public sector base to a broader range of work embracing the important, and by the 1970’s more acceptable, idea of ‘commercial’ work. That YRM worked internationally was a sign of the both UK’s economic difficulties and the senior partners’ vision of a global practice engaged in a much broader debate about architecture. As well as its London base YRM had offices in Hong Kong, Australia, the Middle East and Africa, where it designed and built the essential large scale urban infrastructure of airports, hospitals, universities, offices, schools and housing.

In their redefinition of the practice the partners also established a different multi-disciplinary model, developing their own outstanding team of Service Engineers, YRME, which was encouraged to also engage with the best rival architectural practices (it worked extensively with Richard Rogers on Inmos and other innovative projects). Later it acquired leading structural engineering practice Anthony Hunt. The conclusion of this pursuit of a new model was the pioneering, if ultimately ill-fated, decision to float on the London Stock Exchange.

As a senior partner, Brian’s architectural hand can be clearly detected in many projects – most notably the later phases of Gatwick, including the ‘blue’ North Terminal and his largest ever challenge, the monumental but simple design of the then controversial nuclear power station, Sizewell B. Brian was also closely engaged in The Michelin Building and worked in collaboration with SOM on the recently listed Wills Tobacco Factory.

Beyond the practice Brian was a supporter and advisor to many individuals and organisations. Under his presidency, the Architectural Association Council established the AA Foundation, a separate charity from the AA, which was a model he had first encountered in the US. Brian was trustee and later chair. Both his children studied architecture, Annabelle runs her own practice while Fergus, no doubt inspired by Brian’s sybaritic tendency, is the owner and chef of St John. Brian died on Thursday 19 June at home in Wiltshire where he lived with Elizabeth, his wife of 57 years. •

Simon Allford