OBITUARY : James Hurford
Thursday 06 February 1997
The QEII project, which placed a modern building on an architecturally sensitive site, might have given rise to controversy. Hurford dealt closely with the client, the governmental Property Services Agency, and it was partly due to his diplomacy, no doubt, that political controversy was kept to a minimum. When the centre was originally conceived, it was intended exclusively for government use, for heads of government conferences, but shortly after its opening in 1986 it became available for commercial enterprises.
After leaving Eton in 1964 Hurford read Architecture at Cambridge, where Sir Leslie Martin was his professor. He was taught by Edward Cullinan, by Peter Bicknell, and by that great influence on many of the post-war architects who went to Cambridge, David Roberts.
On graduation, Hurford worked for C.A. Cornish and Louis de Soisson before joining Powell and Moya in 1971. There, aside from the QEII project, on which he worked very closely with Sir Philip Powell, he worked on the Museum of London and applied his organising skills in the mid-Eighties to the decanting of Great Ormond Street Hospital from its original buildings into refurbished and new buildings on the same site. Internal conversion work and the construction of the new Variety Club building took place while the day-to-day workings of the hospital continued.
In 1987 Hurford joined the Percy Thomas Partnership and worked on hospitals, many of which did not come to fruition. In 1993 he left Percy Thomas, but remained a consultant to the practice before joining Tindall Riley and Company in 1994, helping architects with their management systems, related to professional insurance.
The energy, enthusiasm, discrimination and attention to detail that Hurford brought to his professional life were no less in evidence where music, food and wine, cricket, cycling and friendships were concerned. Few architects have music at the centre of their lives, but Hurford certainly did. In addition to his passion for Haydn, he had a scholar's approach and an encyclopaedic knowledge.
Food and wine came a very close second. The books on wine in Hurford's library nearly outnumbered the books on music, and these were accompanied by bottles of the real stuff, all numbered, probably catalogued, and kept in orderly racks under the staircase. It was Hurford who introduced me to pudding wines. I remember, when visiting the Haydn Festival at Eisenstadt and Esterhaza, his insistence that we try the pudding wines at every meal.
Hurford was a keen follower of cricket, owning a complete collection of Wisden, the older volumes inherited from his father. He had been a skilled oarsman, having rowed for Eton and his college, Gonville and Caius.
As part of his work on the QEII Conference Centre, Hurford worked with Wendy Barron, the curator of the Government Art Collection, to choose the centre's pictures, and they commissioned several original artworks, including a large mural by Eduardo Paolozzi. Hurford had always been interested in art in buildings and through Barron he became a Trustee of the Public Art Commission Agency, on which he served from 1989 to 1993. Before that he was a member of the Arts Council Special Projects Committee from 1986 to 1988.
James Hurford was the ideal companion at a concert, writes Dr Jeffrey Tobias. He was thoroughly well informed and generally with the appropriate scholarly book (invariably out of print) in his hands. A picnic would usually materialise, particularly if there had been time in the summer months to meet beforehand on the steps of the Albert Memorial.
A great lover of Haydn (above all), Beethoven, Messiaen and Steve Reich, he was equally fierce in his disdain for other "lesser" musicians, for opera generally, and Mozart in particular, whom he once sniffily dismissed to me as a composer who "might have been quite good if he'd lived long enough". He was a tremendous champion of 20th-century music - the more difficult the better.
James David Kinahan Hurford, architect: born 17 September 1945; MBE 1988; married 1971 Katharine Storry; died London 29 January 1997.
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