Obituary: Ray Cecil

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The Independent Online
Ray Cecil will be remembered by the architectural profession as their mentor on practice matters and the champion of the small practitioner.

He came to the fore in 1977, when the Council of the Royal Institute of British Architects voted to allow advertising by architects, the first such decision by any profession. Believing that the architect and client relationship was a very personal one and not a commercial trading relationship, he organised a campaign to overturn the council's decision. Of some 4,000 practices in the United Kingdom, about 80 to 90 per cent employed fewer than five people and he sought, therefore, to protect the majority against the financial clout of the few, including that of his own practice.

His campaign was successful, only for him to find, three years later, in 1980, a renewed attempt by the RIBA Council to re- introduce the issue, coupled with a change to the Code of Conduct. On this occasion, Cecil combined with others to convene a Special General Meeting of the RIBA membership which requisitioned a poll on the proposal. Again, he was successful: it was overturned by a majority of over two- thirds.

Seen as champion of the majority, Cecil stood for and was elected to the RIBA Council in 1980 and again in 1983. He already had an intense interest in the proper management of an architect's office and had been a member of the Practice Committee since 1978. His following in the membership earned him the position of Vice-President in charge of practice matters.

In 1989, Council sought to change its constitution so that there would be no nationally elected members. Cecil was convinced that such a change would destroy the RIBA and its headquarters work, as the outcome would have been a number of underfunded, uncoordinated regional centres. With three others, he called for a poll on the subject and was successful in maintaining the status quo. Again, riding on the success of overturning Council's recommendations, Cecil was reelected to the Council with more than double the first-choice votes (using a transferable vote system) of the next candidate.

It was in the following year, 1990, that Cecil retired from the practice, latterly known as Cecil Denny Highton & Partners, that he had formed in April 1960. The practice had a mainly commercial workload in its early years, but turned increasingly to the public sector after the recession of the mid- Seventies. The principal project in Cecil's time was the refurbishment of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, a project that is still under commission. Although a large practice by both national and international standards, it was never perceived as an establishment practice; indeed, Cecil would never have wanted it so.

He must, therefore, have felt sadness when, later in the same year, he stood for President of the RIBA against Richard MacCormac, the Council's senior Vice-President. It was originally a three-horse race; one candidate dropped out and the soft-spoken MacCormac prevailed against the outspoken Cecil.

In retirement, Cecil continued to champion the cause of the individual and small practitioner, having switched from writing regular articles for the RIBA Journal to the Architects Journal. Throughout his time as a public figure, he adopted the "open door" philosophy for RIBA members which had earlier marked the management style of his own practice. His interest in the young and their induction into the architectural profession was a crusade that he pursued relentlessly and there will be many who, for years to come, will continue to be grateful for the ethics, probity and professionalism with which he imbued them, both directly and insidiously.

Michael Highton

Raymond Joseph Cecil, architect: born 22 February 1925; served Fleet Air Arm 1942-46; partner, Raymond J. Cecil & Partners 1971-83, Cecil Denny Highton & Partners 1983-90, consultant 1990-95; married (one son); died 29 January 1995.