Architect who designed the brutalist Glasgow University Library and Hunterian Art Gallery

Born: October 21 1920;

Died: March 17 2019

SIR William Whitfield, who has died aged 98, was a versatile architect who, well in advance of the fashion for post-modernist pastiche, drew on an extensive range of styles to produce a series of prominent public buildings.

In Glasgow, he was responsible for the uncompromisingly brutalist University Library and Hunterian Art Gallery complex constructed on Hillhead Street at the crest of University Avenue in the late 1960s; in London, he was the prime mover in the massive, and controversial, redevelopment of Paternoster Square in the early years of this century, and also designed the striped brick headquarters of the Department of Health opposite the Cenotaph on Whitehall in the mid-1980s.

However, Whitfield could turn his hand to more traditional forms; for many years his firm was involved in the painstaking restoration of Christ Church, Spitalfields, Nicholas Hawksmoor’s English Baroque masterpiece on Commercial Street, and he was later Surveyor of the Fabric of St Paul’s Cathedral (1985-90); in 2003, he created a Palladian English country house in Oxfordshire for the financier Wafic Said, which Country Life described as “the finest postwar classical house in Britain”.

Whitfield built for God and Mammon; an early success was his extension for the Institute of Chartered Accountants in the City of London, which attached to John Belcher’s exuberant Victorian Baroque building, and the 1930s extension in the same idiom, a starkly brutalist reinforced concrete and granite tower. But he also produced, in addition to his restoration work on London churches, a new chapter house for St Albans cathedral and additions to the Cathedral Close at Canterbury.

Less happy was the £350,000 out-of-court settlement his firm reached with an order of Benedictine monks after a “nightmare” project to construct a sacristy and extension for Ealing Abbey in west London in the 1990s, which was plagued by cracked paneling, damp and a faulty heating system.

He was born on October 21 1920 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where his mother’s family were prominent coal merchants; Whitfield was his mother’s name, which he adopted after his father deserted the family when William was very young. He demonstrated an early talent for drawing, and was also an avid cyclist, travelling for miles across Northumberland and the Scottish Borders to sketch churches and tower houses.

His precocious talent and remarkably comprehensive knowledge of architectural styles led to his enrolling at Newcastle’s School of Architecture (then affiliated to the University of Durham) when he was just 15; he qualified just before the outbreak of war, and went on to take a degree in planning. The immediate aftermath of war required considerable reconstruction and in 1952 he set up his own firm, Whitfield Partners, which he led until 2003. After its closure he and his civil partner Andrew Lockwood set up Whitfield Lockwood Architects.

As with many modernist architects in the era of competitions for major projects (particularly for public buildings), Whitfield at first gained notice for designs which failed to make it off the drawing board. In 1954, his plans for the reconstruction of the Barbican were much admired, though the brutalist complex eventually constructed contained none of his work.

Another abortive scheme was a planned complex of towers for government offices opposite Westminster Abbey, which won a competition at the beginning of the 1960s, but was never realised. But he then went on to produce the King’s Road Centre and a theatre for the University of Newcastle (1964-70) and won the commission for Glasgow’s library.

The 12-storey tower and adjacent art gallery in Hillhead sharply divided opinion, with its hammered concrete, but even whilst embracing the bluntest expression of 1960s brutalism, Whitfield demonstrated his competence in other styles by producing a home for the interiors from Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s house, which the university had previously demolished. His concrete version (complete with cast doorway hanging in mid-air) was almost an anticipation of the ghostly structures later produced by the artist Rachel Whiteread.

He also demonstrated considerable technical expertise to accompany his stylistic virtuosity; the ICA extension (1970) at Moorgate Place in the City had an extremely innovative structure which suspended the office floors above a Great Hall, allowing it to dispense with visible columns in the ground floor’s interior space.

Cast concrete staircases at Richmond House, the DoH headquarters he built in 1987,were similarly effective in creating airy interiors, though the building’s most impressive exterior elevations are, unfortunately, at the rear, which is now sealed off by a security cordon and little seen; the department no longer uses the building, and there is currently discussion about whether it should be demolished.

The reconstruction of Paternoster Square (1995-2003), near St Paul’s, was a long-running saga which faced fierce opposition from traditionalists, but Whitfield’s plans for the area eventually won out. Whitfield Partners designed office blocks, retail and service areas and cafés around a central open space, largely in Portland Stone; the height of the buildings was carefully modulated to create a loggia and airy pedestrian precinct around a 23-metre central column (which incorporated part of the ventilation system). Other architects were involved in individual components of the scheme, but the overall design was Whitfield’s.

The neo-Georgian country house at Tusmore Park in Oxordshire for Said was Whitfield’s last major project, though he had kept working well into his 80s; in 2004 it won the Georgian Group’s award for Best New Building in the Classical Tradition.

He was Professor of Architecture at Victoria University of Manchester in 1981, a member of the Royal Fine Art Commission and a Trustee of the British Museum. He was appointed CBE in 1976 and knighted in 1993.

Like many modernist architects, Whitfield himself lived in an 18th-century house; a hunting lodge at St Helen Auckland in County Durham which he and Lockwood had rescued from demolition and restored.