Sir Colin Stansfield Smith, who died peacefully in his sleep (19.06.13) following a stroke, was a natural leader, both in his chosen field of architecture and on the cricket field. He led his team of architects at Hampshire County Architects from 1973-92 and thereafter as a consultant; and the cricket teams of Cambridge University and his native Lancashire, as well as turning out for the Gentlemen (amateurs) against the Players (professionals) at Lord’s. He was ever the gentle man, generously favouring the kindly word over the sharp edge of his tongue, saving that for the bureaucrats he blamed for obstructing his vision for better schools for all our children.
Hampshire County Schools are still a by-word for imaginative, child-centred (it would now be called) design – and still winning awards, most recently in the month of his demise. Low-rise, full of light, usually with courtyards and with generously proportioned classrooms, they take their inspiration from the village school, but here there are no dark corners, no high windows, no dismal corridors. Though rural in their bases they have influenced many 21st century urban schools, particularly those built under the academies programme in their emphasis on the provision of good communal spaces and environments that mitigate against bullying. Colin’s schools started from the point of view of the child, not the teacher and certainly not the administrator. As a result they work for everyone.
He studied architecture and drama at Cambridge, first choosing the latter over the former and starring in a number of West End productions before qualifying as an architect. He worked in the architecture departments of the London County Council and the Greater London Council, before becoming Deputy County Architect for Cheshire under the inventor of the jet engine Sir Frank Whittle. He was made Professor of Architecture at the School of Architecture at the University of Portsmouth in 1992 and designed the Portland Building, which houses the architecture faculty, in 1997.
Sir Colin was awarded the Royal Gold Medal in 1991. Ever modest, he was at pains to point out that the honour was, or should have been, a collective one. It was the first Royal Gold Medal to acknowledge that architecture is a collaborative affair.
The citation said: ‘His work in Hampshire carries his architectural imprint, whether it is by his own hand, produced by his own office, by other architects he has hired or local authority offices to whom he has delegated. Apart from his huge personal talent he has deliberately been a catalyst for other architects with differing views of architecture to excel within his own general guideline for excellence. And always for him the end users’ needs and sensibilities have been paramount.’
He was made a CBE in 1988 and was knighted in 1993.
RIBA President Angela Brady said:
‘Colin was one of my all-time school design heroes. He had a crack team at Hampshire County Architects and designed some of best schools in Europe which had the scale a child would appreciate and empathy for all. They were all individual buildings relating to nature, context and learning, something that needs to be remembered today. When I was Vice Chair of Civic Trust Awards a few years ago I brought in a special award to honour HCA’s work which still inspires many today. He will be sadly missed and dearly remembered.’
Colin leaves a widow, Angela and a son and daughter. The funeral will be private but a memorial service is to be arranged.