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
Life and Style
love + sex
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
people
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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: International Trade Advisors - Hertfordshire or Essex

£30000 - £35379 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company is based in Welwyn ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Controller - Response Centre

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Resource and Recruitment Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Resource and Recruitment Manage...

Recruitment Genius: Junior IT Support Technician

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Junior IT Support Technician ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn