Gavin Stamp (1948–2017)

by Martin Postle

  • 8 January 2018

It was with immense sadness that we were informed of the death on 30 December 2017 of Gavin Stamp, the architectural writer, campaigner, teacher, and broadcaster. Gavin was in all senses a formidable individual; fearless and uncompromising in expressing his opinion, trenchant in his defence of the architectural values he upheld, and scathing in his criticism of the wanton destruction of buildings and cityscapes. Born in 1948, Gavin attended Dulwich College and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he undertook his PhD on George Gilbert Scott, junior. A talented draftsman and model-maker in his youth, he developed a keen understanding not only of the history of buildings, but a love of their form, fabric, and function. As a campaigner, and an active member of the Victorian Society and the Twentieth Century Society, Gavin was instrumental in saving many buildings in imminent danger of demolition. It was Gavin, for example, who first suggested that the redundant Bankside Power Station, by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, rather than being destroyed, might find new life as an art gallery; and thus Tate Modern was conceived. Gavin was also instrumental in saving another superannuated creation of Giles Gilbert Scott, the red Telephone Box; otherwise known as Kiosk No 2.

Gavin Stamp, Christ Church Spitalfields, April 1977

Gavin Stamp, Christ Church Spitalfields, April 1977,

Gavin was an accomplished writer and journalist. He wrote for Private Eye, under the pseudonym, ‘Piloti’, and from 2004 until 2017 was a regular columnist for Apollo magazine. Among his book publications were The Changing Metropolis: Earliest Photographs of London 1839-1879 (1984), Telephone Boxes (1989) The Memorial to the Missing of the Somme (2006), Britain’s Lost Cities (2007), and Gothic in the Age of Steam: an illustrated biography of George Gilbert Scott (2015), supported by a grant from the Paul Mellon Centre. Although, in later years Gavin forged a freelance career, he was previously Professor of Architectural History at the Mackintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow. There, he developed his passion for the architect, Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson, in whose house he lived. An indefatigable traveller, Gavin conducted rigorous lecture tours across Europe and beyond, often forsaking the beaten track to explore sites such as the ruined Venetian fortress of Stanjel in Slovenia and the Turkish-style tent pavilions in Stockholm, as well as somewhat obscure housing estates in suburban Rome and Chicago.

Gavin Stamp was a close friend and supporter of the Paul Mellon Centre for many years, being awarded a Senior Fellowship in 2003-2004 and serving subsequently on the Centre’s Advisory Council, where his opinions were expressed with his customary candour and good humour. Gavin also participated actively in conferences and seminars organised by the Centre, notably ‘John Summerson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock: Aspects of Architectural Historiography in the Twentieth Century’, in 2004; ‘Fruits of Exchange: England, Scotland and Architecture’, in 2007; ‘Architecture, diplomacy and national identity: Sir Basil Spence and mid-century modernism’ held at the British School at Rome, in 2008; and most recently, ‘One Object, Three Voices, The Cenotaph’, in Spring 2014. Gavin, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer several years ago, continued to work and campaign almost until his death. His departure leaves an enormous gap, surpassed only by his legacy.

About the author

  • Martin Postle - Senior Research Fellow at the Paul Mellon Centre