Dennis Sharp, who died of cancer on May 6 at age 76, was one of the most globally-minded figures in British architecture, with a ready internationalism that expanded the profession’s horizons. Whether working as an architect, editor, historian, or curator, his gregarious outlook both defined and enriched a remarkable period of postwar modernism in England and beyond.
Trained originally as an architect at the Architectural Association in London, which continued to hold a special place in his heart, Dennis went on to study architectural history at the University of Liverpool in the late 1950s before teaching there and at other schools. He returned to the AA in 1968, where among other duties he was general editor for publications until 1982 and served as founding editor of AA Quarterly. His links with America began with a visiting professorship at Columbia University in 1980, followed by his involvement in the Graham Foundation Lecture Awards.
Exhibitions were another of Dennis’ specialties, and again his open-minded, catholic tastes came to the fore. Dennis organized shows on Oscar Niemeyer and Kisho Kurokawa, among others, and his blockbuster exhibition on Santiago Calatrava in 1992 helped establish the architect’s global reputation while triggering the formation of the Architecture Centre at the Royal Institute of British Architects. Around this time, Dennis was appointed RIBA vice president for a two-year stint.
It is as an architectural historian of modernism that Dennis will be best remembered. His book Sources of Modern Architecture: A Critical Bibliography (1981) went into several editions, as did Modern Architecture and Expressionism (1966). In 2008, he brought out his magnum opus on the practice of Connell Ward & Lucas (written with Sally Rendel), a fitting topic in that the firm both designed the first truly modernist house in Britain—High & Over, near Amersham, in 1930—and was a combination of New Zealand and British architects.
Dennis was executive editor of the journal World Architecture for many years, as well as a nominator for the Aga Khan Awards. He was awarded the prestigious Médaille d’Argent by the French Academy of Architecture, and also the UIA’s Jean Tschumi Prize. Dennis loved the architecture of all countries, not least the U.S. In 1984, he mounted a bold exhibition about Alfred Bossom, a British architect who had run a commercial practice in Manhattan before returning home in the 1920s to become a Conservative politician (and the butt of Winston Churchill’s jokes).
As a natural enthusiast with seemingly boundless energy, Dennis was devoted to modernist architecture in all its guises. This passion drew his own practice into designing award-winning and ultra-modern buildings, as well as restoring modernist gems in Britain. He served for countless years as a lynchpin of DOCOMOMO UK, the modernist conservation group. In practice, Dennis worked closely with his partner, Yasmin Shariff, whom he had met at the AA.
Dennis celebrated the turning of the millennium in the Grand Canyon, and he was a long-term supporter of Paolo Soleri’s utopian desert experiment at Arcosanti, writing a major book about it with Jeff Cook. Just prior to his death, Dennis was writing a new book on Frank Lloyd Wright in Britain, one we sadly won’t get to read.