Enthusiastic architect led by chance into housing design, who believed that good architecture would help create a better future for all
My father Brian Frost, who has died aged 81, belonged to a generation who believed good architecture would contribute to a better future for all. Most of his work was in housing – more by chance than intention, he later maintained – and demonstrates a passion for care and quality in buildings.
Brian graduated from the Southend School of Architecture in 1960 and took a job with Chamberlin Powell and Bon. Working closely with Geoffrey Powell he progressed quickly, joining the register in 1962 and becoming project architect on the successful Vanbrugh Park council estate in south east London.
Impatient for different experiences, he moved to James Stirling's office. After some work on the Cambridge History Faculty Library, he became project architect on the Melville Hall of Residence at St Andrews University. The change in the materiality of Stirling’s work at this time is clear, and though Stirling cited the lack of local materials and transport difficulties as reasons for the choice of precast panels, I like to think it was also influenced by my father’s arrival from one of the most concrete-loving practices in the country. The isolation of the site did cause other issues; on one flight up to Scotland Brian forgot the drawings and was forced to improvise in a significant client meeting.
Stirling was aware of my father’s admiration for him, so must have been all the more surprised when he declared that he had learned all he could, and was leaving to join the Greater London Council, taking on a £20 million project for 2000 new houses on Hounslow Heath.
Although he stayed at the GLC for six years – while teaching at Cambridge and the AA – Brian became frustrated when a public enquiry stopped Hounslow Heath. He began to enter competitions and was a prize-winning finalist in the 1968 Newport Comprehensive competition (won by Evans & Shalev). He was also successful in the 1971 Huddersfield Housing competition, eventually leaving the GLC in 1973 to set up in partnership with Clifford Nicholls, a venture which lasted until 1977. Frost Nicholls’ competition-winning scheme for Calverton End in Milton Keynes was inspired by Jørn Utzon’s 1963 Fredensborg houses and is still one of the best courtyard schemes built during this golden age of low-rise housing. Sustainability was not then a significant concern, but the scheme’s compact setting and choice of materials still offer much to learn from today.
More housing followed, along with a sensitive scheme for a small theatre company in Cornwall – sadly only partially built. By the early 1980s, however, changes to the funding and procurement of public housing greatly reduced the opportunities for creative work in the sector. So in 1987, just as the British Library began to poke its head above ground after five years on site, my father joined Colin St John Wilson and Partners as associate partner, responsible for the scheme's on-site co-ordination, construction quality, and design of the clock. He remained with the practice until 1996, and then took up a similar role for James Stirling, Michael Wilford & Partners on No 1 Poultry.
In 1998 he returned to Southend, renovating the Louis Kahn-inspired house he had built for his parents at the beginning of his career.
It is probably fair to say that his declared hobbies of sailing, walking and theatre never really competed with his love of architecture. This consuming passion was there until the end, even if he, like many of his generation, could only really express it through the generosity of his work.
He leaves behind a loving wife, Brenda Frost, two sons Bill and Christian, and six grandchildren.