Obituary: Brian Richards ; Architect with a Rare Devotion to Transport Design

By Sharp, Dennis | The Independent (London, England), December 29, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Obituary: Brian Richards ; Architect with a Rare Devotion to Transport Design


Sharp, Dennis, The Independent (London, England)


DESIGNING FOR people living, working and moving in cities was the primary focus of the work of the architect and transport consultant Brian Richards.

As a boy his young mind was taken up with roads and transport. His father was a road surveyor in Somerset who during the Second World War served in the Army building bridges in France after D- Day. Brian, whose mother had died when he was eight, was transferred to Glasgow at the outbreak of the war and sent to school at Trinity College, Glenalmond, in Perthshire, where in 1945 he gained a scholarship at the age of 17 to begin training as an architect. He attended the School of Architecture, Liverpool University, which, at the time, was a celebrated and lively school and where one of Brian Richards's contemporaries was James Stirling.

On leaving Liverpool Richards obtained a Fullbright Fellowship to complete his postgraduate work at Yale. There he came under the influence of the former Bauhaus teacher Josef Albers and initiated a lifelong friendship with the Indian architect Charles Correa, with whom he was to work years later on a transportation study for the New Bombay Plan.

While on the East Coast he worked briefly in the office of the New York architect responsible for the UN Building, Wallace Harrison, before returning to Europe in 1953 to join an international team in Tangiers and Paris in the office of Candilis, Bodiansky and Woods. Richards's first major building was a community school in Casablanca for an Atbat-Afrique programme of what were called "Mohammedan dwellings". Atbat (Atelier de Batisseurs) was set up in 1947 with Le Corbusier when Vladimir Bodiansky and the American Shad Woods were working on his Unite d'Habitation in Marseilles.

Returning to England in 1955, Richards worked first for Richard Sheppard's practice before joining the office of H.T. Cadbury Brown taking charge of the design and construction of Gravesend Town Hall. Five years on he opened his own practice in London.

During this fertile period he took up an appointment as a fifth- year tutor at the Architectural Association and began his serious involvement in ideas for traffic and people movements and for transport design. It was this highly complex subject area on which he continued to lecture at the AA and the Bartlett School at University College London until quite recently, inspiring successive generations of students.

Richards was particularly interested in the dynamics of transportation systems. He believed that this was a political hot potato - the subject of countless reports but little action. Despite all the policy statements a clear understanding was lacking of the fundamental design options offered.

Not that this was an entirely new issue. It had occupied the minds of planners for years, but Richards gave it a new focus. Lewis Mumford had pointed out the political expediency behind transport planning in his 1938 book The Culture of Cities, where he states that the "main use is to uphold the crowd-prestige of the metropolis and increase the pecuniary values garnered by .

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