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Michael Squire (1946-2023)

Peter Murray

Entrepreneurial architect who nurtured and developed London's urban character with sympathetic modern buildings often in stone, concrete and brick

Michael Squire.
Michael Squire. Credit: Squire & Partners

At the northern end of Tower Bridge is the entrance to a visitor centre leading to the elevated walkways which look down on the bascules below. The small cabin of glass and steel is an early work by Michael Squire, completed in 1993. It encapsulates a design approach that would inform his practice as it grew to become one of the most significant contributors to London’s changing face in the early 21st century. The centre sits comfortably against the iconic grade I structure. It fits in, but there is no architectural conformity, no gothick detailing. ‘We do modern buildings – not historical pastiche,’ Michael would say.

Look to the east from Tower Bridge and you see Vogan’s Mill, a 17-storey white residential tower. It looks like a newbuild but is in fact a retrofitted grain silo. Look west, and there is One Tower Bridge with its bricky, balconied, New London Vernacular vibe, an architecture that responds to the Foster glassiness of More London on one side and the Victorian warehouses of Butlers Wharf on the other. The skyline is pierced by a slim 20-storey tower emulating the serrated skyline of the chimneys and cranes of the old Port of London and its industrial past.

Squire’s 1998 Brook House in Park Lane, designed as the practice recovered from its decimation in the recession of the early 90s, launched Michael Squire Associates into the world of high-quality residential at a time when London was becoming a honeypot for the international wealthy. The brick and stone building was an appropriately contextual addition to the eclectic streetscape of that urban motorway.

Tower Bridge visitor centre.
Tower Bridge visitor centre. Credit: Squire & Partners

Later works investigated the use of Portland stone or precast concrete to create an architecture that harked back to the stone and rendered terraces of 19th century London with a nod in the direction of Rafael Moneo's Murcia City Hall, a style that reached its apotheosis with buildings like the offices for Unison on Euston Road, Southbank Place and Chelsea Barracks. This ‘white period’ exhibits a deft handling of stone that feels totally at home in the heart of London yet also transferred successfully to the Middle East in the Msheireb development in Doha. At Chelsea Barracks, where Squire & Partners, together with Dixon Jones, was responsible for the masterplan and some of the buildings, Michael delivered a powerful piece of city that sits comfortably with its Cadogan and Grosvenor neighbours. 

The practice has also carried out many refurbs and retrofits over the years. One of the most spectacular is Space House on Kingsway, designed in the 1960s by Richard Seifert, thus bringing together the work of two architects who have had such a significant impact on central London. The project is due for completion later this year.

Architecture runs in the family. Michael’s grandfather was JC Squire, the poet and editor who founded The Architecture Club in 1922 with the aim of enlarging ‘the public appreciation of architecture’. His father, Raglan Squire, was one of the earliest global architects, jetting to jobs in the Far and Middle East. Michael’s first job was with his father in Jakarta and Bahrain. Raglan also undertook private development, something which was frowned upon in those days by the RIBA.

  • Chelsea Barracks.
    Chelsea Barracks. Credit: Jack Hobhouse
  • One Tower Bridge.
    One Tower Bridge. Credit: James Jones
  • Brook House.
    Brook House. Credit: Squire & Partners
  • Townhouses at Macaulay Road, Clapham.
    Townhouses at Macaulay Road, Clapham. Credit: Squire & Partners
  • Squire & Partners’ Brixton office in a converted department store.
    Squire & Partners’ Brixton office in a converted department store. Credit: James Jones

Michael inherited his father’s entrepreneurial gene, but by then the RIBA had softened its views on development. When the practice rebranded as Squire & Partners and moved from South Kensington to gritty King’s Cross in 2001, he started a café next door to cater for staff as well as the general public. He developed three fine townhouses in Clapham, and moved into one himself.

The most recent office move in 2017 to Brixton was even more ambitious. Not only did the converted Department Store provide offices for the practice, it included retail and restaurant spaces as well as a shared office business. Michael was a proud patron of the rooftop Upstairs bar and dining space where he would host parties for the Architecture Club, of which he was a long-standing committee member and supporter.

Michael was proud to describe the firm as commercial – that it was profitable and well run. In spite of the unexpected suddenness of his death, a long-standing succession strategy was in place and the firm is now led by his son Henry, and fellow partners Tim Gledstone and Murray Levinson. He is survived by his wife Rosy and children Henry, George, Richard, Charles and Miranda.

Peter Murray is co-founder of New London Architecture and a past master of the Architects’ Company