Architect, ecology activist and charity worker;
Born: June 7, 1945; Died: February 23, 2013.
Howard Liddell, who has died aged 67, had a passion for ecological and sustainable design that gave Scotland some of its most innovative buildings. From urban Perth to remote Glencoe, the Borders and Acharacle on the west coast, his pioneering work was recognised with a host of awards that reflected his deep commitment to people and place.
A man of uncompromising principles, he believed in the notion of architectural practice as a service to people, the community and the environment. He worked for real, deep green design and planning and spoke out vehemently against greenwash merchants, those who jumped on bandwagons and what he described as eco-bling, writing an antidote to the latter – a book on eco-minimalism.
He also threw himself into community and charity work, receiving the OBE for his services to ecological design and his voluntary work, an award he did not live to see but which was presented posthumously at his funeral.
Originally from Askrigg, Wensleydale in Yorkshire, he was the son of childhood sweethearts Laurie Liddell, a frustrated architect, and his wife Alys. The family moved to Newcastle and then Edinburgh where his father was director of physical education at Edinburgh University and founder of the university's Firbush outdoor activity centre near Killin. He was also chairman of the Scottish Sports Council and host of the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games.
Young Howard was a sporty, outdoorsy youth who had considered a career in linguistics. At the age of 18 he changed his path and went into architecture. Although he did not have the appropriate qualifications, he completed the entrance requirement of a year in the office of an architect and succeeded in gaining a first-class degree from Edinburgh University in 1968.
After some time working as an architect in Kingston in the 1970s he went to Hull School of Architecture as a senior lecturer and then director of research. He also went on to forge links with Highland Perthshire by bringing colleagues, students and postgraduates to collaborate in the Breadalbane community to address sustainable development for the area.
His interest in ecology had been sparked by a 1970s group of anarchist architects and designers known as the Street Farmers who wanted to radically transform urban living and created the Street Farm experimental ecohouse in London.
In 1978 he moved to Aberfeldy, where he worked in an architectural practice and became the chairman of the local community council, architect for Aberfeldy Recreation Centre, founding director of community organisation Locus Breadalbane and a member of the council of Rural Forum. His dedication to the area even led to him breaking his leg in the first Aberdeldy raft race.
Meanwhile, in 1979, he accepted a two-year guest professorship at the Oslo School of Architecture which led to the formation of the Green Association of Idealistic Architects (GAIA) in Norway and later GAIA Architects (Scotland).
He also taught, for more than 25 years, on the postgraduate course at Oslo University's International Summer School, where his influence extended to participants from almost 100 countries.
By the early 1990s he saw the need to move forward ecological design and was a co-founder and first chairman of the Scottish Ecological Design Association. He was also a visiting professor of architecture in Aberdeen from 1992-96 and a member of the Scottish Building Standards Research Committee.
By 1996, by then divorced from his first wife Jenny for 15 years, he moved to Edinburgh with his second wife, Sandy, and formed the GAIA Group. They led dozens of groundbreaking architectural, engineering, planning and research projects in animal architecture, timber building, allergy-free housing, natural ventilation and other fields, all combining cutting-edge environmental solutions.
As principal of his own practice he headed a team that won a multitude of awards and included some of Scotland's earliest ecological buildings. He clinched the UK House of the Year in 1993 and, over 18 years, helped to revitalise a deprived area of Perth resulting in a vibrant scheme that won a United Nations Habitat award for its final phase of affordable, low allergy, ecological housing. The Glencoe Visitor Centre, completed in 2003, received a clutch of accolades including the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors International Sustainability award.
More recently Plummerswood, a private house overlooking the River Tweed, was named Scottish Architectural House of the Year 2012. Acharacle School, the UK's first to be made from Brettstapel timber panels fixed only by dowels, not glue, and Glentress mountain biking centre have both been applauded.
He also encouraged the next generation to embrace a more ecological approach to architecture, as a founder member of the Children's EcoCity Projects in which youngsters are helped to create a model of their environmentally friendly community. The first project included a Children's Parliament and when the real Children's Parliament was created a few years later he became a trustee.
He was also invited to become involved in the Kijiji project in Tanzania, supporting children affected by poverty and HIV/Aids. In 2009 he led a group of volunteers to Tanzania to complete a workshop building, garden store, agricultural well and one for clean drinking water for the charity, giving generously of his time and money.
A man big in stature, spirit and vision, it illustrated his belief in ecological, affordable and sustainable architecture for everyone.
He is survived by his wife Sandy, his children Becky, Emma, Briony and Jamie and eight grandchildren.
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