Patrick Nuttgens

Architect, broadcaster and founding Director of Leeds Polytechnic
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The Independent Online

Patrick John Nuttgens, architect, broadcaster, writer and educationist: born Whiteleaf, Buckinghamshire 2 March 1930; Lecturer, Department of Architecture, Edinburgh University 1956-61; Director, Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies, York University 1962-68, Professor of Architecture 1968-69, Honorary Professor 1986-2004; Hoffman Wood Professor of Architecture, Leeds University 1968-70; Director, Leeds Polytechnic 1969-86; CBE 1983; married 1954 Bridget Badenoch (six sons, three daughters); died York 15 March 2004.

Having distinguished himself in a fruitful university career, Patrick Nuttgens crossed the binary divide in 1970 to become the founding Director of Leeds Polytechnic. There he presided over the transformation of a municipal college of technology into an institution of national reputation.

During his 15 years there he became an ardent apologist for the polytechnic ethos. A man of many accomplishments - architect, gifted artist, writer, scholar, broadcaster, television pundit and presenter, raconteur - he was, at bottom, a teacher; inspired and inspiring, lively and probing and ever challenging.

He was one of a small band of people who, in the 1970s and subsequently, helped, powerfully, to shape the polytechnic system, restoring the intellectual challenge of the vocational, putting creativity in the front line of higher education and battling to break down barriers to innovation and opportunity in learning.

Bearing the title "Director", he was never that. Routine matters of management and administration were not his forte. He nurtured, he led by example, he flung out and sought ideas, he stimulated. His style could be unsettling to those who were comfortable with the routines of administration, but his overall effect was undoubtedly effective.

He came to Leeds from a remarkable background. His father was born in Aachen and was brought to live in London from an early age. He became a noted designer of stained glass and he and his family, including Patrick, lived for a few years next to Eric Gill and his coterie of friends at Piggotts (or Pigotts) in the Chilterns. Patrick's mother was Irish and an accomplished mathematician. She died when he was seven. Pat grew up with father, stepmother and 11 children.

Brought up as a Roman Catholic, he was influenced and formed all his life by his Catholic faith, though subject to crises of doubt and questioning. At the age of 12, he contracted polio and was confined to hospital bed for a year. It left him partially crippled and thereafter he was troubled by pain and discomfort, borne with remarkable courage and good cheer.

Nuttgens went to Edinburgh College of Art to study architecture, later transferring to a new joint course with Edinburgh University and thus gaining his MA and completing his professional training. It was there in his first year that he met Biddy Badenoch, whom he married in 1954. She and Pat and their nine children (including a foster-child) made a remarkable family. Biddy was a rock throughout their marriage and, during the last 25 years of his life, as he became increasingly disabled, she was his constant carer.

In his final year at Edinburgh he met up with Robert (later Sir Robert) Matthew, the brilliant architect then in his prime. Nuttgens joined Matthew in the Department of Architecture at Edinburgh University and lectured there until 1962, when he was invited to direct the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies at the new York University then being established under Eric James. Nuttgens's work there was concerned mostly with postgraduate courses for practising architects. It was innovative work and had a significant impact upon the architectural profession. Had Nuttgens been able to establish a Department of Architecture at York, as he and Eric James wished, new paths in architectural education would surely have been marked out.

Nuttgens's impact and influence upon higher education have been far-reaching. He regretted greatly what he felt to be the demise of the polytechnics when they were absorbed into the hugely expanded university system in the 1990s. He was persuaded that the articulation and further development of the polytechnic system would have been highly beneficial for the whole of higher education. He felt deeply that the philosophy and ethos of polytechnic education, which he and others had worked assiduously to establish and propagate, had been betrayed.

He lectured widely, often brilliantly. His regular columns in the Times Higher Educational Supplement were greatly appreciated. He was a prime mover in the Education for Capability movement. His books on architecture are authoritative and well regarded. A regular and frequent contributor to Round Britain Quiz and A Word in Edgeways, he prepared and presented some acclaimed television programmes. He was Chairman of the BBC Northern Advisory Council from 1970 to 1975.

Pat Nuttgens had a great gift for friendship and a great love of life. He wore his learning lightly and could be relied upon to enliven any discussion with wit and common sense. Small of stature, he was large in every other respect; large-hearted; generous; encouraging; tolerant.

George Tolley

As an architect able to communicate to a lay public, Patrick Nuttgens had a rare and precious talent, writes Gavin Stamp. Both through his writings and his associated television programmes, he did much to encourage the current wide interest in architecture, both modern and historical.

"Simply from living in buildings, we all possess sufficient expertise to embark on the study of the story of architecture," he wrote disarmingly at the beginning of The Story of Architecture. This excellent book, which went into two editions (1983, 1997), did not end with the grand climax of modernism, as so many other general histories - like Nikolaus Pevsner's - had done. Instead, Nuttgens recognised that the story can never be concluded, that we now live in an age of pluralism, and that architecture is much more than the satisfaction of basic functional needs, for an important, constant human need is "for something more profound, evocative and unusual - for beauty, for permanence, for immortality".

In his equally useful Understanding Modern Architecture (1988), Nuttgens looked at what had happened since the 1890s and attempted to reconcile his Modern Movement training with experience by stressing the importance of the public dimension and that "the isolated artist has no role to play".

Nuttgens's ability to break out of the introverted compound of modern architecture and his catholic tastes owed much to his upbringing at Piggotts Hill as the son of a stained-glass artist. It was this that explained why he devoted so much time to Eric Gill in his contribution on the Arts and Crafts movement, A Full Life and an Honest Place, in the BBC's "Spirit of the Age" series broadcast in 1975. Other particular heroes were Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Edwin Lutyens and Yorkshire's local Arts and Crafts master Walter Brierley, but he recognised that they were all helped by a social and economic climate which encouraged both individuality and good workmanship: "There never was a better time for door handles and window fasteners and cupboards and fireplaces and baths and basins."

Such observations reflected both Nuttgens's humane outlook and his inherited suspicion of the grand manner. He was an early critic of comprehensive redevelopment and systematised mass housing, and he examined less authoritarian and more gentle alternatives in the BBC's 1989 series of documentaries The Home Front: housing the people 1840-1990. In the accompanying book, he concluded without regret, "Housing will never be the vehicle for great architecture again."

His first book, Reginald Fairlie, 1883-1952 (1959), was on a Scottish church architect who was a traditionalist rather than a modernist, and he was always deeply interested in sacred architecture. It was, however, typical that in an enthusiastic review of the "most vital and thrilling designs" by the Glasgow firm of Gillespie, Kidd and Coia for new Roman Catholic churches in 1962 he felt obliged to point out "an almost cavalier disregard for building construction and maintenance".

Nuttgens's judgements were tempered by his Arts and Crafts conscience but even more by his profound faith - which could be blinding. He once sent me off to look at the new Roman Catholic cathedral in Middlesbrough and I found a structure of painfully little merit surrounded by car parks and supermarkets on the edge of that benighted city. But, when I complained, he was quite unapologetic.

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