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Desmond Hodges

Architect who revitalised Edinburgh's New Town;

Born: September 25, 1928; Died: November 26, 2012

For 22 years, Desmond Hodges, who has died aged 84, was director of the Edinburgh New Town Conservation Committee (ENTCC), the body that revitalised and refurbished some of the grandest squares in the capital's New Town. Working with the architect Sir Robert Matthew, Mr Hodges saved the New Town from further decay and brought new life to areas such as Stockbridge, many of which were in a sorry state both socially and architecturally.

The ENTCC was created in the 1960s to advise residents on the refurbishment of the 18th century New Town and in 1972 it appointed Mr Hodges as its first full-time director. It proved an inspired appointment and the credit for driving the ambitious project to completion is largely due to Mr Hodges and his patience and immense enthusiasm, although he was much helped by the residents of the area – and associations such as the Cockburn Society – who volunteered to map and survey some of the most stylish properties in Scotland.

Desmond Hodges was born in Dublin, the son of the Bishop of Limerick and attended St Columba's, Rathfarnham. He became an apprentice with an architectural firm that specialised in the restoration of 18th century buildings and on qualifying, practised in Belfast before applying for the job in Edinburgh.

Much of the New Town was in dire need of attention, especially the area from Scotland Street and round St Stephen's Church. Worse, there was pressure on the city council from developers to build high-rise flats in the area.

Mr Hodges convinced residents that the New Town's architecture must be completely preserved and its historic atmosphere enhanced. His diplomatic powers allied to his profound knowledge of Georgian architecture and a calm but forceful personality did much to ensure Edinburgh's New Town was not bulldozed into obscurity.

By 1975, the Queen Mother had opened the first completed project, 23 Fettes Row, and by 1994 – the year Mr Hodges retired – he had overseen more than 1000 refurbishments and preserved the dignity and elegance of a much loved, and universally admired, area.

Significantly, when he retired, there were three receptions held in his honour, by the city council, the New Town Association and by ENTCC. Mr Hodges's work was more widely recognised in 1995 when Edinburgh was awarded World Heritage Site status. The citation praised the way he had been able to maintain the conservation of both the Old Town and the New Town "to a degree not possible within bureaucratic systems. These two agencies have been able to link community development to conservation in substantial and meaningful ways."

He is fondly remembered by residents for his unerring courtesy and enthusiasm. The fact that he turned what was described as a tattered fringe (principally the Stockbridge area) into a living and working community – preserving, with much skill, its intrinsic charm and elegance – is Mr Hodges's undoubted legacy. As are the various street associations, such as the Ann Street Society, that safeguard their streets and squares with a dedicated zeal.

Mr Hodges was the co-author of Care and Conservation of Georgian Houses, which was praised for its detail and accuracy. It provided advice about preservation techniques in period property. Indeed, the book and Mr Hodges's acclaimed work in Edinburgh had a major influence on the conservation of many historic buildings in other historic cities such as Bath.

On his retirement, Mr Hodges initially moved to the Merchiston area of the city, where he helped the Merchiston Community Council. Later he moved to Haddington.

He is survived by his wife, Margaret, whom he married in 1965, and their two daughters.

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