Richard Feilden

Champion of sustainable building design
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The Independent Online

Richard Feilden was an influential practitioner of architecture and a passionate and effective advocate of its value.

Richard John Robert Feilden, architect: born Lincoln 29 March 1950; senior partner, Feilden Clegg Bradley (formerly Feilden Clegg), Architects 1995-2005; Chairman, Higher Education Design Quality Forum 1995-2000; OBE 1999; married 1975 Patricia Nelson (two sons, one daughter); died Warleigh, Wiltshire 3 January 2005.

Richard Feilden was an influential practitioner of architecture and a passionate and effective advocate of its value.

He was killed by a falling tree in his cherished patch of woodland while clearing a glade as a memorial for his father. If such a thing makes sense, he would have appreciated leaving the world in this way, though it happened at least 30 years too early: for a connection with the natural world was one of Feilden's great passions given direction by a strong consciousness of legacy. These drives have been central to the architecture of Feilden Clegg Bradley (FCB), the firm he co-founded and which has produced some of the best examples of "sustainable design" in Britain, dating from before the phrase became common currency.

Feilden came from a distinguished family - his father, G.B.R. ("Bob") Feilden, was an eminent engineer, and author of the seminal Feilden Report on Engineering Design and Director General of the British Standards Institution, 1970-81. His uncle Sir Bernard Feilden is a world authority on the conservation of historic building and a well-known architect. Another uncle and his family made a significant contribution to ethical banking and started brie production in Somerset. Richard's grandmother, who single-handedly brought up these three and two other boys, was a lifelong inspiration to him.

Initially following his father into engineering, Feilden changed to Architecture at Cambridge University after a year. In this post-1968 era of enormous student self-confidence the world seemed ready for reshaping and Feilden took to the reshaping with relish - rewriting the architecture syllabus halfway through his first year, for example.

He completed his architectural studies at the Architectural Association in London. Then, after less than a year of assistantship, he set up practice in 1978 with Peter Clegg, operating from a shop-front in Bath. Feilden and Clegg not only designed but also built low-energy houses via building and development companies they set up.

Feilden was an early champion of the involvement of building users and local communities in the design of building - what used to be specifically called "community architecture" but has now become part of accepted practice. In this, he was in the thick of the redirection of the architectural profession away from the "doctor always knows best" model towards valuing not only the rights of consumers but the deep knowledge they can bring to the complex processes of briefing and design.

In 1994 he played an important role in the Royal Institute of British Architects' pivotal "Strategic Study of the Profession", when clients were asked what they thought of the services architects were providing. The replies were a delicious mix of encouraging and sobering, perfectly reflecting what so often exercised Feilden: architects have much to contribute to society but are often their own worst enemies, not seeing the full picture of clients' needs and slow to influence change.

When appointed to the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment in 2000, Feilden got the chance to influence public procurement on a wide scale. Through the design of a number of award-winning school projects, such as the John Cabot City Technology College, Bristol, and the Olivier Theatre at Bedales School in Hampshire, FCB had built a formidable reputation in the education sector. This, together with his detailed knowledge and his passionate advocacy gave Feilden unparalleled authority in the subject.

The commission was appalled by some of the schools built in the early days of the Private Finance Initiative; with Feilden's leadership, Cabe's schools programme ensured that the need for high-quality design for pupils and staff was recognised by the key players - from ministers and civil servants to those responsible for delivery. While we are still far from seeing every new school well designed, there is considerable evidence of a significant improvement and a healthy crop of exemplary designs. Much of the credit is due to Feilden.

Richard Feilden's greatest achievement lies in the creation and direction of FCB - a practice that has continually produced high-quality architecture, adhering to strong principles and with sustained idealism for over 25 years. His method of operation was not that of an individualist prima donna designer but of an inspirer and synthesiser of many contributions. The result is a modern form of practice that explicitly embraces the collaborative nature of producing architecture.

For a large practice with 100 staff, FCB has an unusually democratic structure with a strong shared ethic. Other than schools, the practice's well- regarded works include the Greenpeace HQ, in Islington, the Building Research Establishment's experimental low-energy office in Watford, buildings for Imperial College and UCL and the recently completed student housing for Queen Mary College in east London.

Whether advocating cycling or better procurement processes, Feilden had an ability to live the beliefs he preached earnestly, and sometimes at a considerable length, while enjoying every minute. The bond of his 32-year old marriage to Tish Feilden and of their close-knit family was a visibly solid base for his energetic actions. He belongs to that radical tradition in which a respect for labour, a profound love of the natural world, a sense of social justice and unabashed entrepreneurship come together vigorously to have an uplifting, palpable effect on our lives.

Sunand Prasad