Gentlemanly leader who used art as a key design tool, and who deepened his relationship with buildings by painting prolifically
My father Roger FitzGerald, who has died of pancreatic cancer aged 63, proudly led ADP for two decades, shaping the firm and encouraging colleagues to explore their artistic abilities through their designs. As a husband, dad and friend, he inspired many with his creativity – designing a beautiful house and garden in Kent for my family, and producing distinctive paintings and books.
Among his favourite architectural projects were The Forum – a municipal and academic library in Southend, a masterplan for the University of Sussex, and the conversion of Oxford Castle from a prison to a hotel. In addition to his buildings, he is remembered for his quiet intelligence, wry humour, and kindness.
Roger was in a talented circle at the Manchester School of Architecture. Then, he was content to live in accommodation that did not match his later high standards for a building. His friend Peter Lines, a fellow architect, says Roger’s digs were ‘grisly’, with areas of floor unsafe to stand on, and others reserved for playing cricket.
His joined ADP in 1983 and served for 38 years, 20 as chairman. He helped the firm move to employee-ownership and implemented a rigorous system of design review. Colleagues saw him as a calm, thoughtful and gentlemanly leader.
Peter and others held Roger’s concept sketches in high regard. Despite advances in computer-aided design, he advocated the merit of simple pen drawings – known by others as ‘Roger-o-grams’ – when trying to win over a client. He encouraged ADP staff to develop their own artistic talents by launching an annual charity auction of their work.
His own art deepened his relationship with buildings. He painted prolifically, late at night, with watercolours and later acrylics, which were combined with collage and ink to achieve dynamic, playful compositions. These works were exhibited or used to illustrate four books on the buildings of Britain, London, New York, and Kent. Roger determinedly continued with the last of these during his final weeks in hospital.
His personal qualities helped him to cultivate longstanding relationships. Sometimes he won work by flipping a design brief on its head, as at Riverhead Infants School – a landmark commission where a sweeping roof brings parkland landscape over the top of a built form.
Much of his highest-profile work saw him treading sensitively within a historic context. A visitor centre he designed for the Palace of Westminster is the building’s only significant extension since the 1800s. Roger later recalled an occasion during this project when he was forced to eject then-chancellor Gordon Brown and his team from a pre-booked meeting room in the Palace.
Other contenders for Roger’s top project might have been one of his university buildings, which sit alongside work by Sir Basil Spence in Sussex and Denys Lasdun in Cambridge, but the honour goes to the first on which he took full control, aged 27: a swimming pool extension for a private house.
Growing up, I took the unconventional features of our home – a circular window, giant murals, chains instead of drainpipes – for granted. Having a designer-dad has affected every aspect of how I see the world, including the value I give to creative expression. Among thousands of inherited beliefs on matters from furniture to fashion, I’ve adopted Roger’s philosophy of packing a car boot ‘architecturally’ – with a rational and orderly placement of items.
He is survived by his wife Lynne, my brother Will, and me. We miss his love and wit every day.
James FitzGerald is a BBC journalist based in London