Brian Richards

Architect with a rare devotion to transport design

Brian Richards, architect, transport consultant and teacher: born Wellington, Somerset 6 October 1928; married 1965 Sandra Lousada (one son, one daughter); died London 19 December 2004.

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 Bâtisseurs) was set up in 1947 with Le Corbusier when Vladimir Bodiansky and the American Shad Woods were working on his Unité 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 . . . financiers". Richards knew this too but looked to design to provide value in use, community well-being and satisfaction and profit by the employment of appropriate systems.

Working with a former Liverpool student colleague, Christopher Dean, he had contributed to Alison and Peter Smithson's study on London Roads as early as 1949 with drawings for a "Soho Project". These were later published in the Smithsons' "Team 10 Primer" issued by Architectural Design in 1962 (and in book form in 1968).

The same scheme re-appeared in Richards's first book, New Movement in Cities (1966). This book went a long way in establishing his international reputation as an architect devoted to transport design, a rare breed indeed at a time when traffic engineering and planning was dominated by practitioners with little or no training or even interest in design issues.

The book presented simply and concisely the various advantages, for example, that accrue for cities that want to plan and design for new underground and elevated systems, minirails, buses, automated roads, people movers and pavements, escalators and heliports. Richards's text was translated into a number of languages and has been updated, revised and expanded in new editions as Moving in Cities (1976), Transport in Cities (1990) and, most recently, as Future Transport in Cities (2001).

In the 1960s New Movement in Cities was a must-have text - a book that sat comfortably with the visionary projects of groups such as Archigram, who were known for their "walking cities" and space-travel schemes which were a flash-point in post-war English architectural thinking. It was pushing out the boundaries of urban design and interconnected transportation systems against a background of the fundamental but sadly forgotten basic traffic research carried out by Colin Buchanan's team on Traffic in Towns, the study of which was published under the same name in 1963.

The main bulk of Brian Richards's consultancy work was in London, with studies for the main London Underground interchanges at St Pancras/ King's Cross in 1994-99 and, in 2003, for the application of travolators at Stratford's new international station. Work abroad ranged from a light railway system for Dublin (for W.S. Atkins) to environmental and feasibility reports on accessibility and movement for the cities of Adelaide and Milan (with Piano and Arup), and a study of pedestrianisation in European cities for the OECD.

Dennis Sharp

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