In Memoriam

British architect, educator, and critic David Dunster passes

International Obituary
David Dunster (Via The Architects' Journal)
David Dunster (Via The Architects' Journal)

The distinguished British educator and architectural critic David Dunster died in London on January 11, 2019, after a brief illness. He was 73 years old.

Dunster led three of his country’s leading architectural schools during a fifty-year teaching career, influencing countless students and changing the tenor of architectural practice from that of an exclusive club to one open to new ideas and responsive to changing social norms. His approach was broadly humanistic, inclusive and always sensitive to the life experiences of his students. As the architect Farshid Moussavi remembered: “He treated everyone equally and with great generosity—if you had an idea he would reach out and encourage you.”

David Dunster was born in Kent in 1945 and attended the Gillingham School before pursuing an architecture degree in the Bartlett School, at University College, London. Always a vagabond, with wide-eyed curiosity for different cultures and locales, he went to Chicago in his early twenties to work for Bertrand Goldberg. While there he witnessed first-hand the fateful year of 1968, with its two assassinations and tumultuous Democratic convention, and developed a love for the city and its culture. It was there that he met his wife, Charlotte Myhrum, a Chicago native.

Returning to the Bartlett, he received his diploma and worked briefly for James Gowan before taking a teaching position at South Bank’s architecture school. He was a visiting critic at Rice University in the early 1980s, and returned to take a full-time position at the Bartlett School in 1983. It was there that he made his greatest mark, writing, researching and eventually heading the program after Robert Maxwell’s departure for Princeton. A devoted Italophile, he would often lead summer trips for students to various Italian cities, camping in Caravans, and visiting the piazzas, gardens, and buildings he loved. Equally versed in the contemporary buildings of Carlo Scarpa and the baroque masterpieces of Borromini, David’s enthusiasm for history left students with a deep respect for the past as they embarked on their design careers.

While in London Dunster was active as a writer, editor, and publisher. He edited a number of Architectural Design monographs for Andreas Papadakis, including influential volumes on the work of John Soane and Edwin Lutyens. He wrote articles in leading periodicals, many on contemporary British architecture, and maintained his ties with U.S. firms as well. His gregarious personality and sharp wit made an impression on everyone he met in the far corners of the globe. He taught in Melbourne, Australia, and was a visiting fellow at the Architectural League of New York, expanding his connections and friendships. Though always ready with a biting quip or incisive comment on things he found petty, ugly, or unjust, he was warm and loyal to friends.

He briefly headed the diploma program at Kingston Polytechnic, and wrote a monograph on key twentieth-century houses that became a best seller. Following his departure from the Bartlett in 1995, he became Roscoe Professor at Liverpool’s school of architecture, retiring in 2010 and returning with his family to London. Always active in education, he was an external examiner for several UK universities in his later years. With fewer responsibilities, he found time to continue his architectural history writing and research.

David was an architect in the tradition of the Renaissance uomo universale—well-read, curious, practical, politically astute, and steeped in the culture of not only his own time but that of past epochs. He approached his work with skepticism and tolerance in equal measure. Most important, he saw design as a means to social amelioration and the advancement of humanistic values, not as technology, theory, or narrowing aesthetic conceptualism. As a colleague at Liverpool remembered: “David was one of the last of his kind—incredibly knowledgeable on all things architectural and cultural.”

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