Catherine Cooke

Scholar of Soviet architecture

Catherine Anne Chichester-Cooke (Catherine Cooke), architect and architectural historian: born 2 August 1942; Lecturer in Design, Open University 1978-2004; died Cambridge 20 February 2004.

The architect and Russian scholar Catherine Cooke was one of the world's leading experts on Soviet avant-garde architecture and socialist urban planning.

She led an immensely busy life working from a home base in the back streets of her beloved Cambridge. From there she managed to combine her work as a Lecturer in Design at the Open University with that of an international peripatetic teacher, writer, editor and examiner as well as personal tutor to generations of degree students.

Her life was fully focused on her subject, and she had immense reserves of energy and an outgoing personality that made her friends everywhere she went. This week, at the exhibition "Russian Graphic Design: from Tsarism and Avant-Garde to Perestroika" at the St Bride Printing Library in London, representing part of her unique collection of Soviet and Russian memorabilia, a friend said that "she brightened every room she entered". She had a formidable presence. She could be friendly, feisty, effusive, informative and profound in equal measure; she was immensely generous with her time, money and ideas.

At the time of her death in a traffic accident, Cooke was at the height of a research and writing career that began nearly 30 years ago. In 1975 she left Clare Hall, Cambridge, having gained a PhD for a thesis on "The Town of Socialism: the origins and development of Soviet town planning". She became confidently fluent in Russian.

Earlier she had studied Architecture at New College, Cambridge, between 1961 and 1967, before commencing work as an architect and gaining experience in the office of Alvar Aalto in Finland and with Casson Conder and Partners in London. But it was her doctorate that was to provide the springboard for the growth of her interest in all aspects of Soviet architecture and town planning. These interests included art, architecture and design as well as the theatre designs, furniture and graphics of the Constructivists.

In the 1980s, when many of the Modernist Soviet buildings - particularly in Moscow - were threatened with demolition, she began to record and list them, drawing the attention of her colleagues to their state of disrepair. This passion led to her joining Docomomo, the international organisation for the Documentation and Conservation of Modern Movement Buildings, for which she served on the International Education Committee and, more recently, as Chair of Docomomo UK.

The daughter of a brigadier-general - who was also in charge of the Royal Yacht Squadron - Catherine Cooke shared her father's passion for sailing. It was reflected in many aspects of her life and many of us who were privileged to visit her house in Cambridge were convinced that she had designed it (or "them", as it was really two connected cottages) like a boat, with a minimal sleeping space and the rest laid out as her unique archival working library, art collection and private gallery - or perhaps it was her English version of a dacha?

After receiving her doctorate, she was reluctant to go back to architectural practice and began to work as an editor, engaged on a raft of publishing projects. She became an editorial consultant for Academy Books and their Architectural Design magazine, a post that gave her the freedom to publish lavishly illustrated books about Russian artists and architects, including the English version of Iakov Chernikhov's works, Chernikhov, Fantasy and Construction: Iakov Chernikhov's approach to architectural design (1984) and her now definitive Russian Avant-Garde: theories of art, architecture and the city (1995).

Together she and I worked on a special issue of the Architectural Association Quarterly in 1979 on Russian and Soviet architecture for which she brought in a formidable array of distinguished scholars including Oleg Schvidkovsky, S. Frederick Starr and Evenya Kirichenko as well her own students as contributors. More recently we worked on a book for Docomomo International, The Modern Movement in Architecture (2000), a survey of Modern Movement buildings in 32 countries.

In 2002 Cooke resigned from her position as chair of Docomomo UK in order to concentrate again on her academic work and to pursue her newer interest in Russia after perestroika. This included an investigation of the new kinds of planning that were introduced into the post-socialist marketplace. Her recent audits of the Russian scene after socialist planning led to a series of lectures in London recently, the last of which was presented at the Architectural Association a week ago.

Cooke's interests took her back many times to the Soviet Union and more recently to countries within the Russian Federation. Her goal was simple: to get the Russian people to acknowledge the enormous contribution their architects and architectural teachers had made to their own cultural life and built environment. She contributed much to a country that has seen and experienced the most fundamental changes in her own lifetime. Her untimely death will be mourned there as much as here.

Dennis Sharp

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions