Obituary: Francis Skinner

Russell Thomas Francis Skinner, architect: born Kuala Lumpur 13 October 1908; married 1966 Josephine Wadey (one daughter); died Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk 6 January 1998.

Francis Skinner was the last surviving of the seven original members of Tecton, the pioneering architectural practice formed under Berthold Lubetkin in 1932 that dominated the formative period of the Modern Movement in Britain. Skinner was Lubetkin's closest colleague, who shared and supported his charismatic partner's belief in modern architecture as an instrument of social progress.

Born in Kuala Lumpur the eldest of three brothers and two sisters, Francis Skinner was "sent home" to England at an early age to be brought up by a maternal aunt in Reading. Entering the Architectural Association in 1927 he became disenchanted with the traditionalist teaching and focused on the radical developments in Europe, many of which he had visited by 1930. A contemporary recalls him reducing an AA studio master to tears in a school crit with his scheme for a Florentine Renaissance church composed entirely of exposed RSJs. His first building, a prize-winning reinforced concrete house for the Modern Homes Exhibition at Gidea Park was completed in 1934 when he was only 26.

"Freddie" Skinner was deeply engaged in the political struggles of the 1930s, being a committed member of the Communist Party and the secretary and driving force of the Architects & Technicians Organisation, which campaigned for better housing conditions and building practices. He was also active in the AASTA (Association of Architects, Surveyors and Technical Assistants) and ABT (Association of Building Technicians), which promoted unionisation of building workers and salaried staff.

This activity was all pursued alongside his work in Tecton, where, as for Lubetkin, his political and professional aspirations converged most closely in the work for Finsbury Council, beginning with the Health Centre completed in 1938 and now listed Grade I. The same year Skinner visited Spain to study the effects of aerial bombardment in the Civil War, his findings contributing to Tecton's controversial scheme of deep bomb-proof shelters for Finsbury. Though these eventually came to nothing his knowledge was re-applied during the Second World War when he served with the Royal Engineers and volunteered for bomb disposal work, having found routine duties too dull.

Tecton's work resumed after the war with the housing projects at Spa and Priory Green, Paddington and Holford Square, Skinner seeing through the Finsbury schemes during Lubetkin's tenure at Peterlee. Skinner declined an invitation from Le Corbusier to join him at Chandigarh in 1950 but continued with major housing developments in Bethnal Green, Hackney and Southwark in the reformed firm of Skinner, Bailey & Lubetkin. This arrangement, whereby Skinner played a key but generally unacknowledged role in running the practice, enabled Lubetkin to remain professionally active during the period when he is widely but mistakenly supposed to have forsaken architecture for farming.

Francis Skinner, the only founding member of Tecton to stay with Lubetkin for his entire professional life, once described his celebrated partner as "the most complete architect you could imagine - a brilliant designer, knowledgeable about structure, very persuasive with clients and a good organiser". But he modestly omitted to mention the qualities he himself brought to their association that made it so durable - a critical appreciation of Lubetkin's vision, a comparable aesthetic sensibility and the inexhaustible dedication and tenacity needed to produce buildings of lasting significance. Their compatible personalities and the complementary nature of their gifts resulted in a unique body of work that neither could have achieved on his own.

Skinner retired in the 1970s to Suffolk, where he continued with various personal projects, including teaching himself Russian and making an extensive study of historic houses and castles. Typically, he approached these not from a sentimental or tourist perspective but as manifestations of Britain's social structure and political development. With his wife Jo, a professional artist and accomplished geologist, he would embark on several tours each year, carefully planned around the locations of their objectives - a series of buildings in his case, a group of fossil sites in hers. Their mutual devotion accommodated these different interests with characteristic generosity, travelling in separate camper vans to pre-agreed destinations where they would re-unite each evening to discuss the day's exploits.

Behind Francis Skinner's innate reticence lay unshakeable egalitarian ideals and a profound belief in the essential humanism of art and science. The very embodiment of George Orwell's phrase "the crystal spirit", he was steadfast, gentle and true.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
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

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

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
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam