Obituary: George Duncan

George Duncan was from the second tranche of post-war planners produced by British universities and polytechnics. The first flight may have been the deus ex machina of the developing countries they were to serve but later graduates thought more in terms of development rather than master planning and were consequently better integrated with local people in the planning process. Of these, none had a higher success rate or greater achievement than Duncan.

In 1968 the Government of Saudi Arabia, on advice from the United Nations, initiated regional planning as a positive element of government economic policy. The firm of Robert Matthew Johnson Marshall and Partners (RMJM), for whom Duncan was working, bid for the preparation of a regional plan for the Eastern Region, and were unsuccessful, but the Saudi government were sufficiently impressed with the quality of the submission to invite RMJM to prepare a plan for the Western Region, together with master plans and detailed studies for the principal cities. George Duncan was appointed to co- ordinate the project.

It was a formidable task. There were no maps or reliable information on which to base a plan. There was also the language problem and the need to secure the confidence and co-operation of people on the ground. Above all it was important to understand and respect Islam and the cultural environment it expressed. To begin to address at least some of these problems it was decided to establish at Jeddah an inter-disciplinary team of architects, engineers, geographers, statisticians and so on.

It was important that the team should include Muslims and that every opportunity be taken to recruit locally-qualified Saudi engineers to work side by side with the expatriates. One of the new graduate appointees was Mohamed Said Farsi, a born leader who later became Mayor of Jeddah and was able to provide the drive and initiative without which the master plan could not have been accomplished.

At Jeddah, Duncan and Farsi were as brothers. Both were aesthetes and respected the best of the past as a pointer to the future. Without Farsi's intervention the remaining magnificent old buildings within the historic core would have been lost to developers. In spite of criticism he introduced sculpture and monuments on to the city streets and promoted the development of a magnificent open air museum of modern art. Together with Duncan he developed other bold and imaginative schemes including the recreational corniche forming the Red Sea frontage of the linear city that Duncan and his team had designed. It was very much the meeting of these two minds that established Jeddah as what Farsi described as "the bride of the Red Sea".

By his own admission Duncan never achieved more than "some Arabic". Whenever he was stuck for words he would take a pencil out of his pocket and draw. Similarly, he never found time to learn to type or become computer literate. Everything was committed to paper in long hand supported by three-dimensional sketches. Calculations were made in his head.

Duncan was the son of a journeyman. At great sacrifice his parents had sent him to the Ayr Academy and then to the Glasgow School of Art and Strathclyde University. Duncan remembered with pride his spartan childhood and the craftsmanship of his father. He saw himself as a master craftsman planner rather than an artist or technician because to him people were always more important than things.

His professional life began in 1955 when he joined a private practice employed in the design of various projects for the Glasgow Corporation. After National Service and a commission in the Royal Engineers, Duncan returned to the legendary town planning division of the London County Council, where he worked with the mercurial teacher and practitioner Percy Johnson Marshall on the preparation of low-cost layouts and development control procedures for Comprehensive Development Areas in east London.

In 1958 he moved to Kent County Council where under James Adams he concentrated on urban design studies and statutory planning policy. By 1959 he was able to apply for membership of the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Town Planning Institute. The next year, following his election as an associate member of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, he joined his old colleague Marshall in Edinburgh and worked with him on the Islamabad sector of the new capital of Pakistan; the Belfast Regional Survey and Plan; the Burgh of Kirkcaldy Central Area Redevelopment Scheme; and on comprehensive planning proposals for Salford and Nova Scotia.

In 1966 Duncan moved to RMJM in Welwyn Garden City working with Sir Stirrat Johnson Marshall, brother of Percy, on the study and master plan for the proposed new town of half a million people based on three existing towns in central Lancashire (CLNT, the Central Lancashire New Town - the last designated New Town in the UK). Otherwise, his early work with RMJM was in connection with the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok.

In 1985, after 15 years residence in Jeddah, Duncan retired from the RMJM partnership and was appointed MBE. This gave him the opportunity to write a doctoral thesis at Durham University entitled "The Planning and Development of the City of Jeddah 1970-1984". Thereafter he served as an external examiner for Durham University, wrote, broadcast and taught, and until shortly before his death travelled backwards and forwards to the Middle East assisting with cartographical publications and consulting on a wide range of urban design problems at Mecca, Riyadh and other Saudi cities. In retirement he returned to his interests of calligraphy, philately and music.

George Duncan, architect and town planner: born Ayr 22 August 1931; MBE 1985; married 1959 Helena Nugent (two sons); died Tours, France 19 February 1997.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty

Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style

Company reveals $542m investment in start-up building 'a rocket ship for the mind'

Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album