Richard Gilbert Scott, 1923 – 2017

Member of the famous architectural dynasty who emphasised human scale and the value of space, particularly known for his churches, City schemes and Blue Circle HQ

Richard Gilbert Scott in his late sixties.
Richard Gilbert Scott in his late sixties. Credit: Warwick Sweeney

Richard Gilbert Scott, who has died at the age of 93, represented the fourth generation of England’s greatest architectural dynasty. After training at the Bartlett and the Regent Street Poly, during which wartime service intervened, Scott worked for his father, the firm becoming Sir Giles Scott, Son & Partner. Commissions for Roman Catholic churches in Birmingham inherited from his uncle, Adrian Gilbert Scott, enabled Scott to get away from his father’s influence. Both the Churches of Our Lady Help of Christians at Tile Cross (1966-67) and St Thomas More at Sheldon (1968-69) are remarkable, innovative designs, now listed. Scott’s extensive work at the Guildhall for the City Corporation – the Basinghall Street building (1966-69), the Library wing (1969-74) and the Art Gallery (completed 1999) was an inheritance from his father, in which his Gothic sensibility is evident. Scott designed boarding houses for Charterhouse School (1971-74) and the lakeside offices for Blue Circle Cement at Aldermaston (1983-86), a particular favourite. Scott’s playful modernism, infused with traditional architectural values, has long been unfashionable and misunderstood, and ought now to receive the respect it deserves. Like his father, Dickie Scott was also a keen and accomplished golfer.

Gavin Stamp

  • Scott's church at Birmingham Tile-Cross-Our Lady Help of Christians, 1966-67.
    Scott's church at Birmingham Tile-Cross-Our Lady Help of Christians, 1966-67. Credit: Gavin Stamp
  • Interior of Birmingham Tile Cross church.
    Interior of Birmingham Tile Cross church. Credit: Gavin Stamp
  • Church of St. Thomas More, Birmingham Sheldon, 1968-69.
    Church of St. Thomas More, Birmingham Sheldon, 1968-69. Credit: Gavin Stamp
  • Birmingham, Sheldon, St Thomas More church.
    Birmingham, Sheldon, St Thomas More church. Credit: Gavin Stamp
  • Interior of St. Thomas More church, Birmingham Sheldon.
    Interior of St. Thomas More church, Birmingham Sheldon. Credit: Gavin Stamp
  • St. Mark's, Biggin Hill, Kent.
    St. Mark's, Biggin Hill, Kent. Credit: Gavin Stamp
  • Guildhall Magistrates Court, City of London.
    Guildhall Magistrates Court, City of London. Credit: Gavin Stamp
  • Guildhall Magistrates Court.
    Guildhall Magistrates Court. Credit: Gavin Stamp
  • A late work by Scott with D.Y. Davies Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London.
    A late work by Scott with D.Y. Davies Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London. Credit: Gavin Stamp
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My father was preoccupied with ‘human scale’, counselling me always to put people in my drawings, to create a sympathy between these figures and the forms and spaces they inhabit.  When we were young, because of his interest in Corbusier’s Modulor, and Corb’s buildings, he would use our bodies to measure height, arm reach, etc. Much discussion was had about Corb’s idealised 1,830mm tall figure: he visualised the proportions of the Golden Section everywhere.

He told me that ‘the space’ was the most important consideration in his architecture, and he inherited his father Giles’ desire to create beautiful spaces. Particularly good examples of this in his work are Tile Cross Church in Birmingham and the area around Old Guildhall and St Lawrence Jewry. Here, the openness frees the old building, emphasizing the space around it and creating a generous public piazza. His exuberant buildings respected the medieval scale of the Guildhall itself. And at Tile Cross Church a dynamic central space thrusts upward towards the light, enriched by John Chrestien’s colourful stained glass.  Working there as a steel fixer’s mate in my teens I was impressed by the amount of high quality carpentry in the plywood shuttering for the complex reinforced concrete roof, very challenging for the contractor.

In another use of space, Blue Circle headquarters at Aldermaston was created as part of a lakeside scene. A large modern concrete building, it meanders sensitively in this romantic setting, adding to rather than disturbing the peace of the landscape, and evoking imagery of eastern pavilions emerging from the woodland and reflected in the lake.  It was probably my father’s favourite building, but needs protection as it is now under threat.

My father’s own home in Norfolk, Meg’s Cottage, is an intimate unfolding experience of overlapping walled garden spaces and buildings, with entrances, thresholds and overhangs, a richness that reminds me of Shinto shrines.

I worked with my father on the design of the new houses at Charterhouse School, breaking down the scale by creating ‘clusters’ which could be freely arranged to fit in among and between the trees of this wooded margin to playing fields. Something was owed here to the work of Stout & Litchfield,  with whom I had worked earlier.

Dad was not dogmatic about architectural style and was responsive to the unique circumstances of each project. However, unusually for his generation, he inherited a fluency in Gothic from his father. At St Marks, Biggin Hill, his perpendicular mullions expressed this convincingly, and at Guildhall Art Gallery he re-iterated it. The West Wing, with its use of closely repeated vertical mullions and dancing canopy forms expressed this language in a more modern style.

Nick Gilbert Scott