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Leslie Fairweather, 1929 – 2017

Peter Carolin

Modest and quietly humorous architect-editor of The Architects’ Journal, who co-edited its Metric Handbook and was an international authority on the design of prisons

Leslie Fairweather, 1929 – 2017
Leslie Fairweather, 1929 – 2017

As a young man, Leslie Fairweather, who has died aged 89, was given three months to live and spent four years in hospital. Thereafter, as if to make up for that, he lived life to the full. When he was awarded the OBE in 2005, it was ‘for services to Architecture, HM Prison Service and to the community in West Sussex’.

After winning the 1957 Ashpitel prize for the RIBA’s best external student, Fairweather worked for Oliver Law before setting up on his own and undertaking the extension of John Christie’s Glyndbourne Opera House. Appointed AJ research fellow in 1962, he oversaw the production of the second phase of the AJ/SfB design guide programme – a monumental undertaking which made a significant impact on the profession. The AJ Metric Handbook, which he edited with Jan Sliwa, was for years an indispensable handbook in every architect’s office. Published in 1968, ahead of UK metrication, it became the all-time Architectural Press bestseller.

Between 1965 and 1968, Fairweather combined this work with teaching at Bristol University. The following year, he was appointed technical editor of the AJ, becoming editor in 1973. Highly competent, he described his approach as ‘low profile, leading from a broad consensus’. Against some internal opposition, he initiated, together with Tim Battle, the annual AJ Awards at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.

By 1984 Fairweather was managing director of the AJ and AR’s publisher, The Architectural Press. The badly run, demoralised company was transformed into a successful and confident group winning many publishing awards, introducing new titles and innovating on many fronts. Turnover increased and profits were made at last. The company was then subjected to two takeovers within the space of 15 months – the second by Robert Maxwell. Fairweather stayed on as managing director, protecting the staff and the publications from the depredations threatened by the new owners. Following his retirement in 1991, the excellent company pension scheme was taken over and pillaged by Maxwell, resulting in some very worrying years for Fairweather and other pensioners.

Fairweather achieved international distinction as a specialist in penal architecture – the subject of his 1957 student dissertation. In 1961, with John Madge, he initiated the first-ever conference on prison design and edited the first major book on the subject. Undertaken on behalf of the United Nations, the project went far beyond the publication itself; Fairweather carried out visits of inspection (including to Eastern Europe before the fall of Communism) and was architectural advisor to the Howard League for Penal Reform. In 1977 and again in 1998/9, he took a leading hand in international conferences, co-editing, with Seán McConville, two significant publications. His expertise was particularly in demand following the Strangeways prison riots of 1990.

After leaving The Architectural Press, Fairweather worked as a consultant and as director of the Clients Advisory Service of the RIBA before concentrating on his work as an independent county councillor. He and his wife, Anne (who ran a local nursery school), lived in Balcombe in Sussex for many years. There, he served on the parish council, was chairman of the governors of a local primary school, wrote a book about the village, organised the VE Day and Millennium celebrations and acted as architect for local churches.

Modest and quietly humorous, Fairweather was always ready to praise and support others while never promoting himself. One of his prized possessions was the RIBA Lifetime Achievement Award he was given in 2008.

He is survived by his wife Anne, children Ruth, David, Rachel, Mark and Michael, and 14 grandchildren.