George Finch: Architect whose designs were inspired by his desire to transform lives

 

To understand the special contribution of the architect George Finch we should remember life just after the Second World War in London. His profession was dominated by public-school educated, upper-middle class men. While 40 per cent of architects worked in the public sector, they were those who tended to be time-servers, without much aspiration, looking for a secure billet. Finch, a committed socialist, saw architecture as a branch of the liberal arts, with the power to transform the lives of the war-battered Londoners.

Finch's socialism and modernism were forged in his working-class upbringing and the crucible of the Architectural Association. Determined from an early age to become an architect, after a short spell in an architect's office he won the single available County Scholarship to the Architectural Association School. He graduated in 1955 from a year that included Neave Brown, Patrick Hodgkinson, Ken Frampton and Roy Stout.

Like so many young, left-wing architects of his generation he joined the London County Council, where he met the senior housing architect, Kenneth Campbell, a kindred spirit. Campbell encouraged Finch to innovate at a time when standard plan types and bland tower blocks were the norm.

When the London boroughs were granted responsibility for housing in 1964, Ted Hollamby, who was appointed chief architect to Lambeth, invited Finch to join the new architect's department. The period produced some of his most mature work when he teamed up with Ted Happold, then of Ove Arup.

The absence of large vacant sites led Lambeth to adopt a policy of surgical interventions. Slim point blocks were inserted on tight sites but always with communal provision at the base. These were the days of government insistence on industrialised building; Finch's designs for the heavily articulated Wates towers remain exemplars when many of the much-derided tower blocks of the period have since been demolished.

Finch described the craggy blocks as "dancing around"; his designs resisted the purely financially driven agenda of the period to create site-specific designs that were filled with light and air and a sense of place. In a recent tour with Docomomo (Documentation and Conservation – Modern Movement), residents expressed to Finch their deep attachments to their homes. The plans reveal clever stacking of maisonettes, allowing saved communal circulation to be included in the generously sized dwellings.

This playful articulation reached its apotheosis in Lambeth Towers. Once again the ingenious section of stacked maisonettes gives each dwelling dual aspect and its own balcony. With a softer aesthetic than the Wates blocks, the building remains lovely and much loved by its occupants today.

Finch's last design for Lambeth was the Brixton Recreation Centre. Its stepped internal atrium connects all of the sporting facilities, achieving a sense of openness and variety, as envisioned by Finch. This much-valued facility was untouched in the riots of 1981 and through recent popular local campaigning plans for its demolition were seen off.

Leaving local government, Finch turned to another of his passions, the theatre. In practice with the architect Roderick Ham he designed Derby Playhouse and carried out work on the Theatre Royal York and Theatre Royal Lincoln. He was a more than competent actor and musician and performed with the Chesil Theatre in Winchester, designing and often painting their sets.

Later, joining my Architects Workshop he was reunited with Ted Hollamby, who by then had been appointed chief architect to the London Docklands Development Corporation. Hollamby commissioned Architects Workshop to produce a development plan for Canary Wharf. Their adopted plan followed a "remarkable" brief that allowed no buildings above five storeys. It was, however, short-lived and abandoned when the LDDC accepted an America consortium's offer "they couldn't refuse", leading to the mega-city of today.

Finch then became a design consultant to the prestigious Hampshire County Architects Department, led by Sir Colin Stansfield-Smith. He designed a number of schemes for Hampshire including the rebuilding of Park Community secondary school. Still active well into his 70s, Finch at last realised his dream of working in a professional partnership with his life partner Kate Macintosh. Finch Macintosh designed the Weston Adventure Playground, Southampton, a charity lottery project. He delighted in contributing to the community through this popular Centre, which won a Riba Award.

His work was recently reassessed in Tom Cordell's documentary Utopia London. The appreciation of his work by colleagues, critics, and most of all the occupants of his buildings, did a lot to relieve the pain he felt at seeing the commodification of the housing he had designed to dignify the lives of everyone. Following a recent Docomomo tour of his Wates blocks, he wrote, "Those I met were all enthusiastic about their homes – eager to show me around and thanking me for what I had done."

Bob Giles

George Finch, architect: born London 10 October 1930; married Brenda (three daughters, two sons), partner to Kate Macintosh (one son); died 13 February 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
music
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own