Paul Hamilton

Modernist architect specialising in transport buildings
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The Independent Online

Paul Albert Herschan (Paul Hamilton), architect: born Vienna 7 May 1924; married 1956 Margaret Wood (two sons); died London 9 April 2004.

With the current resurgence of interest in post-war Modern architecture in England, a number of buildings by Paul Hamilton have been re-evaluated and officially listed.

He is probably best remembered for his transport-building designs. The most notable of these are the sleek, streamlined Paddington Maintenance Depot offices imposingly situated at the edge of the elevated A40 in Maida Vale in west London. Divided into two distinct but connected functional parts, one prominently above ground and the other a circular train shed below, the offices are now owned and occupied respectively by the clothing retailer Monsoon and the Nissan Design Centre.

These listed structures were designed by Hamilton and his partner John Bicknell in 1968. They were derelict and badly neglected for many years (and the venue for illegal raves in the 1990s) but later sympathetically renovated with advice from Hamilton himself. He, to his great surprise and pleasure, had seen other buildings listed that he had designed in the 1960s, including the main railway station at Harlow and an original brick-faced signal box at Birmingham New Street.

Paul Hamilton was born Paul Albert Herschan, the son of Max and Camila Herschan of Vienna, in 1924. From 1935 to 1938 he was educated at the Gymnasium Humaniska in Vienna before being expelled as a Jewish pupil. He arrived in England under the Kindertransport scheme in 1939, sponsored by Winifred Hollingsworth (of the department-store families Bourne and Hollingsworth) and Dr Hugh Crichton-Miller. Both of Paul's parents and nearly all of his relatives were murdered in the Holocaust.

In England he continued his education at Taunton School. Too young to be interned, he volunteered in 1942 for the British army, first joining the Alien Pioneer Corps in Glasgow. There he was given an hour to choose a new non-Germanic nom de guerre. Aware that he had the initials PAH printed on his kitbag he glanced across the Glasgow streets and saw a bus on its way to "Hamilton". It became his name.

War service took him to many parts of the world, initially with the West Yorkshire Regiment and then the Parachute Regiment, serving in the Intelligence section, due to his fluent German. He saw much combat during the Second World War and was badly wounded after the British airborne landings of D-Day in 1944.

He was captured briefly by the Germans before returning to recover in England. But instead of being invalided out of the services he was posted back with the Paras for the Rhine Crossing. His brigade was then flown out to India in order to flush out the Japanese from Singapore who surrendered before the action began. Hamilton was moved on to Ceylon before he was demobbed in 1947.

That year he began his architectural training at the Architectural Association in London. After completing the five-year course he joined the LCC Architect's Department, working on a number of housing schemes including the Alton Street Estate in Roehampton, south-west London.

After three years at the LCC he joined British Rail. He worked at the Eastern and later the Midland offices as Senior Architect responsible for a number of important transport projects including the first major post-war station at Harlow New Town. He also designed mechanical facilities buildings such as signal boxes, which, in bringing together problems with mechanical functions, circulation and appearance, fascinated him and epitomised the Modernist "machine aesthetic" building.

In 1964 he left BR and joined his former AA School student colleague John Bicknell in partnership. This continued until Bicknell's death in 1984 and the creation of the Paul Hamilton Design Group, which lasted a further decade until Hamilton retired in 1994. Bicknell and Hamilton's work included the refurbishment of Rodwell House in the City of London, a number of private houses as well as housing for the army Staff College at Camberley.

Bicknell and Hamilton had taken on the Paddington Maintenance Depot development as their first major project. It was something of a minor sensation at the time of its completion and widely touted as the first London building to come to terms with the symbolisation of a modern transport building, set as it was in the crutch of a minor motorway and the main railway system going into Paddington Station.

The administration block towered above the roadway, small in area but immensely powerful in profile. Inside it had an entrance hall and staircase inspired by the German Modernist Eric Mendelsohn. The building won major awards - including the Concrete Award 1969 - and was extensively published nationally and abroad. When it was listed Grade 2* in 1994, Hamilton was called the "doyen of 1960s Brutalism", a term he abhorred: "I was never a Brutalist, always a Modernist" was his riposte.

Paul Hamilton was a shy and reserved man, dedicated to his professional life. Often at the AA Member's Bar he would be seen sucking away at his pipe, engrossed in detailed conversation about some aspect of architecture. His wide range of interests included a great admiration for the work of the 16th-century Ottoman architect Sinan in Turkey, a country he had visited frequently before mass tourism took hold.

Dennis Sharp

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