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Obituary: Architect Edward Samuel, who shaped part of Highgate's townscape, dies aged 89

PUBLISHED: 12:03 13 July 2013 | UPDATED: 14:24 13 July 2013

Architect Edward Samuel on the scaffold of Thorn House, Upper St Martin's Lane, in 1958. Picture: Adrian Flowers

Architect Edward Samuel on the scaffold of Thorn House, Upper St Martin's Lane, in 1958. Picture: Adrian Flowers

Adrian Flowers

An architect who lived and worked in Highgate for 60 years and shaped a small part of his local townscape, as well as buildings nationwide, has died, aged 89.

Edward Samuel, in his 50s. Picture: Stella SamuelEdward Samuel, in his 50s. Picture: Stella Samuel

Edward Samuel had many friends and clients in Highgate, where he was responsible for a small part of the local townscape, most notably the 1960s terrace which still looks dignified and elegant opposite the junction of Jacksons Lane and Southwood Lane.

He also sensitively and creatively re-modelled the interiors of many houses in the area over a long career.

As an infant, the parents of Edward Frewin Samuel (born September 17, 1923) moved from Compayne Gardens in West Hampstead, where they had lived since their marriage during the First World War, to Woking.

Edward fastened on the idea of being an architect when still at Harrow School and, during his communist youth this was informed by contemporary ideas about social engineering.

During the Second World War a combination of Edward’s talent for maths and physics and his short sight, meant he was despatched to do a short course in engineering at Cambridge.

He was then a midshipman and second lieutenant (acting) in the Fleet Air Arm (RNVR). After interminable technical courses, he eventually saw active service as a flight engineer and radar operator (Fairey Barracuda no.822 Squadron) looking for German midget submarines in the closing days of the European war.

Edward studied at the Architectural Association (AA) at a highly creative time when a new era of contacts with European colleagues was beginning and hopes were high to create a better future.

He met his wife Stella (née Helps) at the AA, where she was also training as an architect. They both saw Denmark and Sweden as their architectural model and Edward was committed to ideas about the need for human scale, natural materials, the use of plants and finding environmentally sensitive solutions.

He started his career working for Basil Spence, the most famous architect of the post-war years, building schools for the Ministry of Education.

In 1955-9, he worked with a team of young architects on the very modern Thorn House, a 15-story block of offices in Upper St Martin’s Lane. He moved on to form his own practice, often working collegiately with others, working from old buildings he was redeveloping in Soho and Covent Garden, then totally unfashionable areas.

His friend Michael Ventris, the architect turned philologist of Linear B fame, lived in a penthouse at Highpoint, from whose windows Edward spotted a derelict tract of land. This was the site of the Highgate Town Hall, totally demolished leaving a network of grim cellars.

In 1952 he managed to obtain a permit to build himself a house - a long low bungalow straddling the ruins - No. 99 Southwood Lane. This encapsulated all his ideas about design and domestic housing and was a shrewd marketing tool. It was published in House & Garden in September 1961.

It could have been the exemplar for Flanders and Swann’s parody ‘...the garden’s full of furniture, the house is full of plants’.

The house was carefully planned to expand as the family grew, but this process was never fully realised.

Few architects live by architecture alone and, ever unsentimental, he tore the house down in 1966 to develop the site into a terrace of six houses.

His main period of house building was from 1961-1972, after which he was increasingly involved in conversions of older houses, many in Highgate.

He enjoyed a wide north London clientele and one faithful client, Ernest Shenton, allowed him to design his most well-known building at Aylmer Close, Stanmore (1965), which was Grade II-listed by English Heritage as a stylish and well-preserved example of a modern house of architectural quality which retains many interior features.

The most concentrated body of Edward’s work can be found in south-west Cork, where a wide circle of chiefly north London friends, appreciating his sensitivity to Irish vernacular architecture, employed him to create their holiday homes.

Edward had a cottage near the sea in the area, famously bought for £40 in 1954, where his family holidayed for many years. His work can also be seen in France.

He leaves his architect wife Stella and three sons and one daughter, as well as five grandchildren.

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