Obituary: Professor Ralph Hopkinson

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Ralph Galbraith Hopkinson, designer and engineer: born 13 August 1913; Research Engineer, GEC 1934-47; Principal Scientific Officer, DSIR Building Research Station 1947-64; Haden-Pilkington Professor of Environmental Design and Engineering, University College London 1965-76 (Emeritus); President, Illuminating Engineering Society of Great Britain 1965-66; Honorary Fellow, Royal Institute of British Architects 1969; Dean, Faculty of Environmental Studies, UCL London 1972-74; married 1938 Beryl Churchill (died 1993; two sons, and one son deceased); died St Albans 11 June 1994.

DURING THE 1950s and 1960s Ralph Hopkinson made an important contribution to the advancement of lighting design through his research at the Building Research Station at Garston, Watford. His studies ranged from investigations into visual discomfort, brightness and its effect on the visual environment to day- lighting as a fundamental part of architecture. These studies not only advanced the subject of lighting but had a substantial influence on building design, particularly in schools and hospitals.

Before going to the BRS in 1947 Hopkinson had worked at the Research Laboratories of the General Electric Company on lighting and radar from 1934 to 1947. He studied electrical engineering at Faraday House and was awarded a doctorate at London University. For his doctoral thesis he investigated, using a newly developed photographic technique, the luminance distributions of road-lighting installations.

While at the Building Research Station, Hopkinson developed a close affinity for architecture, and when Richard (later Lord) Llewelyn-Davies became Head of the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London it was natural for Hopkinson to be invited, in 1965, to fill the newly established chair of Environmental Design and Engineering which was jointly funded by GN Haden and Pilkington Brothers. This was an important development in architectural education, providing the subjects of human factors and environmental design as natural complements to the more traditional aspects of architecture. Hopkinson's research work was translated into the design work of his practice which received awards from the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America for the lighting of the London Stock Exchange Market Hall and the 1978 extension of the Tate Gallery.

Hopkinson's distinction in lighting education and research led in 1965 to his election as President of the Illuminating Engineering Society of Great Britain and in 1972 he was awarded the Society's Gold Medal. In 1969, in recognition of his contribution to architecture, he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

His early studies of psycho- physics, and in particular the work on visual comfort and discomfort glare, led on to investigations into visual and noise intrusion. This work provided valuable information for the Department of the Environment in the planning of urban motorways and in 1972 Hopkinson wrote a significant paper for the journal of the Royal Town Planning Institute on visual intrusion in the landscape and how this could be measured using psycho-physical techniques.

Ralph Hopkinson was in many ways a very private person who did not take easily to the public platform. He was happily married for 55 years to Beryl Churchill, with whom he shared a love of music and the countryside. The eldest of their three sons died prematurely in 1969, a loss that they overcame with the support of their two surviving sons and their families. Beryl herself died last October.

(Photograph omitted)