Keith Scott 1927 – 2015

Founding partner of BDP who brought North American pizazz to retail architecture

Keith Scott
Keith Scott

There are personality architects who wield influence through a small, significant output and through teaching – such as James Gowan, erstwhile partner of James Stirling, who died, much-lauded, earlier this year. And then there are those architects who develop different skills, work in largely anonymous teams and who are responsible for vastly more of what we see and use in the built environment. One such was Keith Scott of BDP, who died aged 88 in July. It is one of the oddities of architecture that as a ‘commercial’ architect, Scott would not normally be considered obituary material in the same way that the slightly older Gowan was. 

Yet Scott, one of the founding partners of BDP in 1961, was a pioneer of the firm’s multi-discipline, collectivist way of working alongside his boss, Sir George Grenfell Baines. Both were culture-hungry men of working-class origins and egalitarian ideals emerging from Baines’ earlier practice in the 1950s. Baines, Scott and the other founding partners were based in Preston, Lancashire, and from this off-pitch base swiftly developed the firm from a regional to national and then international practice with a network of offices.

When I worked at BDP in the early 1980s, the growing London office still felt like a satellite of the firm’s north-western powerhouse of Preston and Manchester. Scott – a dapper gent, bow-tied in the old-school manner, bright-eyed and birdlike – would drop by the office increasingly often as he became the darling of the pension-funded developers who were building a new wave of city centre shopping centres. It was a business where personal contacts and experience counted for everything, and Scott had the ear of blue-chip clients. They trusted the transparently reasonable Lancastrian architect with his planning expertise, and often went to him first, ahead of London rivals.  He won competition after competition for the practice.

Blue-chip clients trusted the transparently reasonable Lancastrian architect with his planning expertise, and often went to him first, ahead of London rivals

Scott was born in Preston, educated at Preston Grammar School, lived there all his life and died there. But he travelled constantly and had an international, specifically North American, outlook: having qualified in Liverpool as an architect-planner, he won a Fulbright scholarship to MIT in Boston, Massachusetts. He brought a first-hand knowledge of American design back to the UK, and took care to keep himself up to date with it.

Scott, always ferociously busy, had a portable drawing-board so he could work on trains and in cabs. His style changed as fashions did, from modernist to postmodernist (compare his sharply geometrical shopping area of Blackburn in the 1960s with the neo­vernacular-meets-Arts-and-Crafts Ealing Broadway Centre of the 1980s) but it always betrayed an interest in complexity. His modernism was mannered rather than functionalist, and in early schools and residential tower blocks he clearly makes efforts to avoid the bland box. When it came to Ealing Broadway the quirkiest sections of this undeniably strange complex were delegated to his traditionalist-minded colleague Francis Roberts: Scott’s sections lack the same conviction. 

In later Scott-led retail schemes such as Carlisle and Ipswich he increasingly embraced context and existing street pattern. He also acted as his own developer for housing schemes in Cumbria, while creating an annual classical music festival, attracting top names, in the ‘buro­landschaft’ Preston office campus, an old mill complex. 

Scott was an entrepreneurial, collaborative architect with a well-developed social conscience and an inquiring mind. Predeceased by his wife Dorothy and son Quentin, he leaves his children Louise, Hilary and Tarquin, and two grandchildren.