Influenced by Le Corbusier and Aalto, Sheppard Robson partner whose designs for housing and award-winning universities helped shape much of Britain’s post war architecture
Gordon Taylor, who died in March this year, was a member of the second generation of partners at Sheppard Robson whose foundation in 1938 goes back to the last years of the modern movement. Gordon shared in the production of a formidable output of architectural work. Driven by the force of nature that was Sir Richard Sheppard, they shared with other similar sized firms of that time the responsibility of shaping much of Britain’s post-war architecture.
Gordon’s body of award winning educational work was influenced by his early exposure to Alvar Aalto and Le Corbusier. His residential housing schemes and designs for the houses he built for his family in Harpenden also embody his understanding of light and his talent for sensitive planting and landscaping. They pay homage to Frank Lloyd Wright and Gordon’s own Miesian approach to merging house and garden.
War interrupted Gordon’s early student studies at Leicester School of Architecture and in 1942 he enlisted with The King’s Own Sappers and Miners, finding himself in Libya and India building bridges and docksides in Tobruk and Roorkee. It was an experience he enjoyed enormously and which was to influence his life, when he later held a warm friendship with Indian architect Mohan Sharma who worked closely over some 15 years with Le Corbusier on Chandigarh. By 1947 Gordon was studying at the University of Delft having won a British Council Scholarship. Dutch culture and lifelong friendships flavoured his work and associations throughout his life.
Finally able to complete his RIBA finals in 1949, he joined Richard Sheppard, Geoffrey Robson and Jean Shufflebottom (founding architect partner with her husband Sheppard) in 1950. This was the year he married Barbara Newick, a young fashion designer, and by the time he was made an associate in 1954 they were already living with a young family in the first house he designed in Harpenden. In 1960 Gordon was made a partner, and the new decade was the beginning for the practice of a hugely creative time in the field of educational buildings.
When in 1959 the practice won the competition for Churchill College Cambridge, its reputation soared. Gordon’s own career was also reaching a zenith. Throughout the 60s he was responsible for the masterplanning and design of many educational schemes including Manchester University, City University London and Loughborough University. Internationally, his competition successes included schemes for universities in Baghdad and Bahrain, and projects in Libya which demanded a prison design with gallows – drawing criticism for Sheppard Robson from Private Eye for taking on such work.
Between 1961 and 1979 Gordon and the practice won RIBA awards for his Loughborough University Library and administrative building, Manchester Metropolitan University’s All Saints Building, and Abbey Gateway Boys School in St Albans. Such close educational partnerships continued down the years, bringing repeated commissions for the practice in the university and schools sector.
In 1981 Gordon’s successful competition schemes included Merck, Sharp and Dohme Research Laboratories in Harlow and the masterplan for the Arabian Gulf University in Bahrain. Nearer to home was his design for Campus West theatre and amenity centre in Welwyn Garden City, which is still thriving today.
It is Gordon’s warmth, humour and humanity for which he will be lovingly remembered by surviving colleagues, many, many friends, his children Simon, Gillian and Meredith and granddaughter Elizabeth-Daisy.