Obituary: Professor Robert Gardner-Medwin

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The Independent Online
Robert Gardner-Medwin, architect and town planner: born 10 March 1907; Adviser in Town Planning and Housing to Comptroller of Development and Welfare in the British West Indies 1944-47; Chief Architect and Planning Officer to Department of Health for Scotland 1947-52; Roscoe Professor of Architecture, Liverpool University 1952-73 (Emeritus); married 1935 Margaret Kilgour (four sons); died 29 June 1995.

Perhaps one of Robert Gardner-Medwin's most important achievements as a professor of architecture was to have invited some of the world's most distinguished architects, planners, engineers and sociologists to visit the school at Liverpool to meet his undergraduates and to inspire the students with the wealth of their knowledge and experience, writes Norman Kingham.

As a student himself in the 1920s, he joined that group of academics who were conscious of the enormous advancement in science and materials. Those formative years influenced his attitude towards architecture and very obviously towards tolerance and freedom. In the summer vacation of 1929 he worked in the New York office of Sloan and Robertson. It was the era of skyscrapers and during this brief period he also explored Chicago and was deeply impressed by the new planetarium perched on a rocky promontory there. Back in Liverpool he chose as his thesis a planetarium on Bidston Hill, on the Wirral.

Before leaving America Gardner-Medwin travelled to Quebec from where he sailed home on the Ascania; it was on this ship that he met Margaret Kilgour who later became his wife.

In 1933 he was awarded a Harkness Fellowship to Harvard and for two years travelled extensively in the United States. On a second visit to Harvard he joined the Harvard Players and took part in several plays under the direction of another Fellow, Alistair Cooke. They became and remained firm friends.

Frank Lloyd Wright found a place for him at Taliesin where Gardner-Medwin with other students worked in the fields and studio where there was time to absorb Wright's philosophy of space, nature and design.

Gardner-Medwin embarked on the architectural profession during the Depression; Max Fry, a fellow graduate from Liverpool, offered him an appointment where Gardner-Medwin met enthusiasts of the Modern movement. Later, as the professor of architecture, his infectious enthusiasm for the Modern movement was eagerly absorbed by the growing numbers of undergraduates. Gordon Stephenson and Bill Holford were the outstanding contemporary students in 1930, and later first Holford then Stephenson occupied the chair of Civic Design at Liverpool. Both were strong supporters of the Modern movement and the two departments grew together in stature.

Many architects and planners throughout Britain and abroad must owe a debt of gratitude to the scholarship and encouragement of Robert Gardner- Medwin. He was a modest and unassuming man - a gentleman academic - but his thirst for new ideas and his knowledge of people and world events inspired all those who worked with him.

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