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John Stillman Obituary | Architecture

John Stillman, who died at the age of 101, was the architect responsible for the design of dozens of new schools across Britain in the mid-20th century, when the post-war baby boom created a urgent need.

The name Stillman was already associated with school architecture, as his father, Cecil, as an architect for West Sussex and then Middlesex County, had turned to the trailer industry to prefab classrooms facing the a rapidly growing population. He inspired his son to practice the same profession and commissioned two of his first buildings, schools in Chiswick and Harrow, completed in 1954.

John Stillman went on to set up design schools in the UK and Gibraltar, in partnership with John and Elizabeth Eastwick-Field. Their stripped-down, modernist designs articulated the era’s concern for natural light and a healthy lifestyle, exemplifying the belief that functional buildings, produced in a scientific manner, would stimulate young minds, especially in small towns and areas. rural areas where there were few secondary schools before 1945.

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These large schools on the outskirts of small towns transformed education in Britain. They were so universal they were taken for granted, and many have been rebuilt since 2000.

Stillman’s work exuded calm and efficiency as well as beauty. Stylistically, he went from understated minimalism in his early works such as the Camden School for Girls (1956-57) to a richer texture of concrete and brick in the 1960s, first in school. Hampstead (1966) then at Clissold School, today Stoke Newington. school (1970), all in London. He built a large number of schools in Cheshire and Devon, including Ilfracombe, Bideford Newton Abbot and Totnes. He was especially proud of the Ridgeway School in Plympton, Plymouth, which he expanded in the 1960s.

While his father had pioneered prefabricated quick-attach solutions, John was fascinated by the materials, details and process of architecture. This was evident as early as 1951 when he described the construction of the Royal Festival Hall in a pioneering series of technical articles for the industry’s leading trade magazine, Architects’ Journal, ranging from its drainage (the land was partly reclaimed from the river) and construction methods to the planning, finishes and acoustics of the current concert hall.

When he created the 23-story Hide Tower (1961), built not far from Westminster Cathedral, his small but well-equipped apartments offered upscale accommodation mainly for the elderly, with laundry facilities and a club room on the ground floor. roof. This was an early example of the use of prefabricated panels for such a tall block, assembled quickly by one of the first tower cranes brought from France. Stillman’s research found that people without children liked living high up. The building won a medal from the Ministry of Housing in 1962.

Above all else, Stillman was interested in carpentry, from the choice of fine hardwood finishes then available in the Commonwealth to the use of rough timber forms to support large structures in which concrete was poured and allowed to set. This led in 1954 to the award of the Alfred Bossom Research Fellowship, jointly with John Eastwick-Field, and resulted in their book, The Design and Practice of Joinery, first published in 1958, which went through four editions.

Lister House, Whitechapel, east London, designed by John Stillman.
Lister House, Whitechapel, east London, designed by John Stillman. Photograph: Linda Nylind / The Guardian

Having started with schools, like many of his contemporaries, Stillman worked extensively in the public sector. Hide Tower was followed by a second block of small apartments for Westminster City Council, William Blake House in Soho (1964-67), and during this time practice designed several areas for London County Council, such as Lister House, a nine-story block built in 1956 on land in Whitechapel vacated by London Hospital and renowned for its combination of efficient planning and clean appearance.

More prestigious programs followed at new universities under construction or expansion as the baby boom generation reached adulthood. At Keele University, the Stillman and Eastwick-Field Students’ Union, opened in 1963, was a large building with shops, meeting rooms, a bar, and a double-height ballroom.

John Stillman was fascinated by materials, details and the architectural process
John Stillman was fascinated by materials, details and the architectural process

Most impressive was a building complex for science and engineering education at Brunel University (1968), then under construction as Britain’s first specially constructed college of advanced technology. The limited budget had to be devoted to the services of a group of laboratories and workshops which was one of the largest of its kind in Europe, four towers connected by lower blocks which form a series of connected courtyards, their formwork in concrete lightened by large areas of varnished glazing.

John was born in Middlesex, son of Cecil and his wife, Alma (née Webb). After attending Peter Symonds School in Winchester, he entered the Bartlett School of Architecture in London in 1937, moving with her at the outbreak of the war to Cambridge. He quickly befriended the Eastwick-Fields and the three formed a partnership in 1949. In the meantime, Stillman served with the Royal Engineers in India, where in 1944 he met and married Anne Stanton, a nurse from Wentworth, Yorkshire. They had two sons.

Like other mid-sized architectural firms, the three senior partners relied on a team of loyal assistants, led by Ralph Smorczewski, and after their retirement in 1986, the firm continued under the name SEF Architects, directed by David Stephens and Humphrey Lukyn-Williams.

Retired, Stillman devoted himself to painting and exhibited several times in North London and with the Society of Artists in Architecture. He was appointed OBE in 1976.

Anne died in 2015. He is survived by his sons, Martin and Andrew.

John Cecil Stillman, architect, born May 27, 1920; passed away July 19, 2021

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