Outward looking RIBA president who was pivotal in creating the Stirling and Stephen Lawrence prizes, a creative designer and financial brain at RRP for 25 years
Marco Goldschmied was a great friend of architecture, whose eyes were always on the bigger picture. On becoming RIBA president in 1999, his mission was to transform the role from an inward-facing one concerned with looking after the profession, to an outward-looking one that set out to grab the public’s attention.
When I started working at the RIBA in 1996, Marco, then chair of the Awards Group, led the small group that established The Stirling Prize. He saw the prize as the most eye-catching goody in architecture’s shop window, yet was always aware of the risks of populism. ‘The upside,’ he once said, ‘is that architecture has benefited; the downside is that we have moved out of the slightly cosy professional world into the wider world.’ Where, of course, architecture always belonged.
One of the prize’s most piquant moments came when sponsorship failed in 2009 and Marco stepped in with the cash. He was obliged to hand over the £20,000 cheque to his then-estranged business partner Richard Rogers, the winner for Maggie’s Hammersmith. Pained smiles all round.
Born in England to an English mother and Italian father, Marco studied at the AA – where he later taught, as he did at Glasgow School of Art. He was a key part of the Piano & Rogers team that won the 1971 competition for the Pompidou Centre, and in 1977 was a founder partner of the Richard Rogers Partnership. He was later its managing director until his departure in 2004.
Marco was always concerned that architecture should be about the betterment of society and not just the big projects his practice increasingly worked on
Every successful architectural practice needs a financial brain. Although a creative designer who had worked on the Lloyd’s Building, Old Billingsgate and Channel 4, Marco designed little after becoming the firm’s MD. Richard may have been the business getter but Marco made sure the client was happy and the bottom line protected.
His concern for the business of architecture extended to others too, and his last campaign was, typically, on behalf of smaller practices. He called for a new form of Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII) that would protect architects from opportunistic claimants and hikes in premiums, wishing to replace it with a model based on a community of interest and mutual trust.
But Marco was always concerned that architecture should be about the betterment of society and not just the big projects his practice increasingly worked on. He befriended the family of Stephen Lawrence, the black teenager who had wanted to be an architect before he became the victim of a racial murder. Marco proposed and funded a prize as part of the RIBA Awards that would be given to the best small budget project of the year. He despised tokenism: the prize has always been about quality (and scale). And ever generous, ever thoughtful of architecture’s future, he gave double the prize money to fund bursaries for less well-off students at the Architectural Association. He was also an early supporter of the London School of Architecture whose raison d’être was to establish a more diverse profession.
Marco married Andrea Halvorsen in 1969 and they had one daughter and four sons, Emma, Ben, Asa, Dan and Matthew – who followed his father into architecture. His quirky breadth of interests included 20th century European history, etymology and skiing, also working for Amnesty International and the Medical Foundation for the Care of the Victims of Torture.
Marco Goldschmied fought for quality in architecture, for it being a matter of collaboration and an international affair, and for the underdog. His final fight was with lung cancer – perhaps the only one this big, brave, funny man ever lost.
Tony Chapman is an architecture critic and former head of awards at RIBA