Denis Clarke Hall

Architect who set new standards in post-war school design

Denis Lucian Clarke Hall, architect: born Hornchurch, Essex 4 July 1910; President, Architectural Association 1958-59; Chairman, Architects Registration Council of the UK 1963-64; married 1936 Fiona Garfitt (one son, one daughter, and one daughter deceased); died Iping, West Sussex 31 July 2006.

Denis Clarke Hall was one of architecture's last links to the 1930s. In 1937, having just qualified as an architect, he won a competition run by the progressive News Chronicle for an ideal secondary school. This was well in advance of the reforms in the 1940s that made secondary education universal.

Clarke Hall's scheme, and the accompanying report that looked at lighting, heating, ventilation and acoustics, as well as functional planning, set new standards not only for school design but also for the emerging field of building science. In particular, the classrooms had natural light from two sides to protect children's eyesight from strain. Mounted, the plan was so long that it could not fit in a taxi and Clarke Hall nearly missed the deadline for submissions. He himself considered the report to be as influential as the design.

Born in 1910, Denis Clarke Hall grew up on a smallholding near Hornchurch in Essex. His father, Sir William Clarke Hall, was a magistrate who with the barrister Benjamin Waugh founded the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Denis's mother, Waugh's daughter Edna, was an artist and a friend of Augustus and Gwen John, often taking her two sons, Justin and Denis, as her subjects. Denis Clarke Hall attended Bedales School and, being interested in science, entered King's College London, only to find the course disappointing and to leave after a year.

His father sent him to the newly opened National Institute of Industrial Psychology, which recommended architecture as appropriate to his mix of scientific and woodworking skills. So Clarke Hall went to the Architectural Association, which was to become the most progressive architecture school in Britain by 1940, but which in 1930 was still largely traditional. His final-year dissertation was on the uses and applications of concrete, when he was advised by the engineer Ove Arup, then a studio tutor.

Clarke Hall subsequently worked for Clive Entwistle, who introduced him to the Modern Architectural Research (Mars) Group - the vanguard of British modernism. He also met Walter Gropius, without realising the importance of the Bauhaus; the News Chronicle design was entirely drawn from first principles.

The competition win secured Clarke Hall's career as a specialist schools architect. He was commissioned by the Education Officer for the North Riding of Yorkshire to realise a version of his design as the Richmond Girls' High School, now the sixth form centre of Richmond School. It was a rare example of the 1930s Modern Movement in northern England. But, as Clarke Hall explained in an article to be published shortly by the Twentieth Century Society, when he saw the historic town of Richmond he realised that a strictly modern design would be inappropriate.

Instead, he and Arup combined load-bearing walls of local stone with concrete construction, realising a synthesis of modern and traditional elements that marked a progression for British architecture frustrated by the war. The school was completed in 1940, its windows arriving miraculously from Switzerland and with furniture designed by Alvar Aalto.

Clarke Hall recognised that a greater austerity of design would follow the war. In 1938 he produced a report on production methods in housing that led him in 1941 to join the Committee for the Industrial and Scientific Provision of Housing. He was also one of two architect members of the Wood Committee, set up by the Ministry of Education in 1943 to consider standardised construction and layouts for the new schools needed after the war.

But prefabrication proved an impossible ideal, as Clarke Hall quickly realised, because of the difficulty of assembling large numbers of elements from different sources, and he returned to traditional construction. Between 1948 and 1973 he designed 27 schools for 11 local authorities, including many in North Yorkshire, and he produced a system of top lighting for Middlesex County Council, the government having adopted his principles of natural light as a requirement for all schools. Clarke Hall thus influenced all post-war school design.

His most ambitious post-war secondary school was that at Cranford, Middlesex, which in 1950-53 introduced a strikingly compact and economical square plan that was very different from the Richmond Girls' High School; adjoining Heathrow, it closed in 1985 because of the noise. Clarke Hall was also the assessor for the Hunstanton School competition won by Alison and Peter Smithson in 1950 and, against strong local opposition, championed their rigidly symmetrical design.

He also designed housing in Hornchurch and near St Pancras Station, and civic centres in Egham, Surrey, and Cranbrook, Kent, where he was asked for a design that again fused modern and traditional elements in a historic setting. He was proud that all these buildings were directly commissioned, and that he never again had to enter a competition.

Clarke Hall retired in 1973 because of ill-health. It was thus remarkable to meet him nearly thirty years later, full of energy and a vivid raconteur and art lover.

Elain Harwood

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
people70-year-old was most famous for 'You are So Beautiful'
Life and Style
fashionOne man takes the hipster trend to the next level
John Rees-Evans is standing for Ukip in Cardiff South and Penarth
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
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: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'