James Morris

Architect and conservationist
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The Independent Online

James Shepherd Morris, architect: born Strathkinnes, Fife 22 August 1931; married 1959 Eleanor K. Houston Smith (two sons, one daughter); died Bethlehem, Pennsylvania 16 August 2006.

Ideal Home in 1963 described the Edinburgh architects Morris and Steedman as "specialists in 'super' houses". The title belies the richness and diversity of their practice, but it was the quality and inventiveness of their one-off houses that set them apart from other modern Scottish practices and led to larger commissions. James Morris's expansive and generous character is reflected in his work.

He was born at Fife in 1931, the son of an architect, Thomas Shepherd Morris. He attended Daniel Stewart's College in Edinburgh and studied architecture at the Edinburgh College of Art from 1950 to 1955. In 1953 Morris and a fellow student, Robert Steedman, won a year's travel scholarship to Europe. After admiring both the classical architecture and vernacular buildings of the Mediterranean, especially in Greece, they worked in Zurich for Alfred Roth and Philip Bridel, and saw Marcel Breuer's pre-war Doldertal flats. Breuer's writings, and his houses with their fluid planning, relationship to site and use of materials, influenced their own work.

In 1955 Morris won a Fulbright Scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania to study landscape under Ian McHarg, an experience that determined an approach to designing buildings that addressed the wider landscape. In 1959, after National Service with the Royal Engineers, he returned to Philadelphia to marry Eleanor K. Houston Smith, herself a distinguished planner. They lived for a year in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, where Morris assisted Vincent G. Kling with the design of the Penn Center business district of the city and where his design for a fountain, originally conceived for Philip Johnson, was realised outside the State Office Building.

Meanwhile Morris and Steedman had set up in practice, following a commission while still students for a house in Cramond, Edinburgh, built in 1955-57 for Steedman's dentist. A white modern house with a big stone chimney set in an enclosure of natural stone walls, it brought American-style modernism to the Scottish capital. Breuer's influence is evident, but there is also a strong underlying classical proportion.

In all the practice designed some 15 private houses, mainly for professionals on modest budgets, with Morris the partner in charge for two-thirds of them - in which pure geometrical forms are most notable. Five have been selected among Scotland's 100 best buildings of the last century, to be exhibited at the 2006 Scottish Design Show. At number 17 is Morris's own house built in the hills south of Edinburgh at Woodcote Park between 1970 and 1977, a steel-framed box infilled with glass and a bold yet sublime insertion into a mature Victorian landscape.

Morris and Steedman designed the Principal's House at Stirling University, a new campus otherwise created by the architects Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall and Partners. Matthew also commissioned Morris and Steedman to develop a student centre of shops, restaurants and a chaplaincy for Edinburgh University, built in 1966-73 around a central covered courtyard. Morris returned to add a night-club there in 1987.

A tougher image was created at the Wolfson Centre for Bioengineering at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, a building determined by its services in the manner of Louis Kahn, and with a central staircase in the form of a double helix - a scientific talking point as well as a means of saving space. A Nurses' Unit at the Princess Margaret Rose Hospital in Edinburgh was made the Building of the Year in Scotland for 1966, and was followed by further additions there and at the Astley Ainslie Hospital.

The Countryside Display and Interpretation Centre at Battleby, Perth, the rebuilding of a ruined farmstead, won Morris and Steedman the Royal Institute of British Architects Award for 1974 and a Civic Trust Award in 1975. Morris was involved in several conservation schemes, including additions to Greywalls, Edwin Lutyens's country house near Edinburgh.

Still more distinguished was his contribution to landscape conservation as North Sea Oil imposed pipelines and tank farms across Scotland's countryside. The containment of the Dalmeny Tank Farm behind carefully disposed shale mounds earned a European Architecture Heritage Year award in 1975, and that for Braefoot Mossmoran in Fife a European Heritage Business and Industry Award a decade later. Morris was also concerned with environmental issues in Edinburgh, and conceived the idea of moving the Military Tattoo down the slope below the Castle to a larger yet still historic site in Princes Street Gardens.

Morris served on many committees, from the Arts Council of Great Britain to Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre. He most enjoyed being Vice-Chairman of the Scottish Arts Council (1976-80) and Treasurer of the Royal Scottish Academy (1991-99), of which he was elected an Associate in 1975 and an Academician in 1989.

His last project was a house in Edinburgh, designed in 2005 with his architect son Houston Morris.

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