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Diane Haigh (1949-2022), respected influence on conservation and design review

Peter Carolin

Design Review director at CABE, whose earlier work on the adaptation of the Royal Festival Hall in the 1990s transformed conservation guidance

Diane Haigh’s impact on the development of her students and younger colleagues, on the integration of historical research and practical conservation and on the successful adaptation to contemporary conditions of historically significant buildings was profound. In the field of design review her influence was unequalled. Wherever she contributed, her relentless pursuit of excellence made for a better, more humane environment.

Born in Kendal, she studied at Cambridge and subsequently worked in research at the university’s Martin Centre and in practice with her husband, William Fawcett. In the early 1980s, with two small children – Eleanor and Francis – they moved to Hong Kong, where she taught for three years. On return to Cambridge she led both undergraduate and postgraduate studios and was, for over 20 years, director of studies in architecture at Trinity Hall – hugely respected by both the college and the students.

She first came to wider notice in the mid 1990s for the restoration (with William) of five Arts and Crafts houses by Hugh Mackay Baillie Scott – about whom she wrote an outstanding book (Baillie Scott: the Artistic House) and curated an international exhibition.

  As a director at Allies and Morrison from 1996, her intellectual rigour, design skill and ability in interdisciplinary collaboration were fundamental to the much-admired adaptation of the Queen’s House at Greenwich (1635) and the Royal Festival Hall (1951). In the former, the intervention is so brilliantly executed that it is almost invisible. In the latter, an unloved auditorium gained a new life and the changes to the rest of the building, honouring its original form and restoring its detail, revitalised the site. English Heritage acknowledged that Di’s work on these buildings transformed its guidance on conservation principles and influenced the National Planning Policy Framework.

In 2007, Di was appointed director of architecture and design review at CABE (the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment), responsible for running review panels on significant projects across England. She expanded reviews to cover a wider range of buildings and ecotowns and launched the publication of Design Review: Principles and Practice. Under Di, rather than being swamped by its huge programme, CABE’s design review process became both better defined and more transparent, inclusive and diverse – and perceptions of the organisation were transformed.

In 2011, following her return to Allies and Morrison as a consultant, she co-edited The Fabric of Place, an exploration of how places work and of what design can contribute to their evolution. Widely used as a primer on architecture and planning courses, it has run to two editions.

From 2014 onwards, Di was closely involved in Cambridge planning. As chair of the local Design and Conservation Panel, she led design review in the rapidly expanding city and played a significant role in the design development of Eddington, the university’s new city quarter. At the time of her unexpected death, she was planning a new book and exhibition on Baillie Scott.

Over the years, her impaired mobility became increasingly apparent. But the respect in which she was so widely held was primarily on account of her many outstanding achievements. To this must be added admiration for her steely determination, generosity and extraordinary ability to engage with people. 

Peter Carolin is an architect, editor and former head of architecture at Cambridge