Adrian Cave: Architect who worked for better disabled access

 

Adrian Cave, who has died from cancer, was an immensely creative and fun person to be with. An architect and town planner, he did much work on improving access for the disabled. He was born in Great Bromley, Essex in 1935 and was educated at Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire – a county he came to love deeply. He did his national service with the 1st Singapore Regiment Royal Artillery in Malaya, where he also did parachute training with the SAS. During his leave, always keen on adventure, he walked through the Borneo jungle.

He trained as an architect at the Northern Polytechnic and then at the Architectural Association, where he also did a postgraduate diploma in town planning. He worked for the Ministry of Housing between 1964 and 1968, and it was while doing a project for them in Sheffield that he came into contact with asbestos, the probable cause of the mesothelioma which was diagnosed in 2008. He worked for the Shankland Cox partnership for 20 years, and was a partner there until he started his own practice, Adrian Cave Associates, in 1989.

This was the beginning of his involvement with access for the disabled – "access with elegance" is how he put it. Over the years he worked on many major projects, improving access for the disabled at Westminster Abbey, the Royal Festival Hall, Strawberry Hill and the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, where, with the approval of English Heritage, he installed a lift concealed behind 18th-century panelling to serve the main Dining Hall, which is used daily by the residents.

With David Bonnett Associates he worked on Crossrail, Tate Modern, the Olympic Village, Trafalgar Square and many other projects. In 2003 he made Nicholas Hawksmoor's last church, St George's, Bloomsbury, accessible to the disabled by installing platform lifts at the side of the church with minimal and reversible alterations to the historic structure. He was also instrumental in removing pedestrian barriers at Oxford Circus and most recently he worked with Jeremy Dixon on the revamp of Exhibition Road.

It seems extraordinary that it was only in 1987 that all new public buildings required level access and it wasn't until 1995 that the Disability Discrimination Act went on to include all new buildings. In 2002 he became the first member of the National Register of Access Consultants, which he had been instrumental in setting up, and was advisor to the RIBA on Disability, Access and Inclusive Environments.

He was just as committed to local community projects and was the founding chair of the Lido Centre for social entrepreneurs and charities in Ealing, for which he received the OBE. His last project was developing a community pub in Carlton for the villages of Coverdale in North Yorkshire, where he and his wife, Felicity, who he married in 1964, had restored a laithe house. He also worked for clients in France, Nigeria, Cameroon, Liberia, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the Sultanate of Oman and Malaysia.

He published three books concerning disability access: Planning and Design Guide for Community Based Day Care Centres (1992, with Janice Brown), Inclusive Accessible Design (2007) and Museums and Art Galleries (2007), a volume in the Making Existing Buildings Accessible series published by RIBA.

Together, Adrian and Felicity, a Russian expert, arranged magical tours for their friends and acquaintances to St Petersburg. Along with copious amounts of vodka, every day was full of surprises; organising a disparate group of 20 independent-minded people cannot have been easy, but the Caves somehow managed it with great aplomb. They also took groups on architectural walks of various parts of London, with Adrian giving succinct and interesting talks. He wore his knowledge lightly and knew as much about flora and fauna as about buildings, all of which made him the ideal walking companion, be it in the East End of London, Tuscany or visiting the painted churches of Romania.

I first met Adrian in a yoga class – he practised regularly and for several years had been meditating daily. He bore his last weeks of cancer with characteristic bravery and good humour.

Sarah Anderson

Adrian Cave, architect and town planner: born Great Bromley, Essex 18 October 1935; OBE 2009; married 1964 Felicity (two children); died 16 January 2012.

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