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

Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
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

Primary teaching roles in Ipswich

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education re...

Science teachers needed in Norwich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Science teachers requ...

Semi Senior Accountant - Music

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful, Central London bas...

English teachers required in Lowestoft

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified English tea...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits