Charles Rattray, teacher and writer with ‘infectious enthusiasm’, dies aged 66


A trained architect, Rattray spent more than 25 years lecturing at the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture and the University of Dundee as well as writing numerous books and contributing to the UK’s main architectural magazines, including the AJ.

Torsten Schmiedeknecht, co-author with Rattray and Andrew Peckham of the 2007 book Rationalist Traces (Architectural Design), described him as ‘an utterly delightful person’ and ‘one of the funniest people I have ever met’.

His comments echo many of the tributes that have poured in for Rattray, who championed the work of emerging architects across Europe such as Claus en Kaan and Geurst & Schulze Architecten.

Rattray was born in 1956 and studied at the University of Edinburgh before joining William Nimmo & Partners where he worked on the new Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Renfrew Street, Glasgow (1988). The practice was executive architect to project leads Leslie Martin and Ivor Richards.

Rattray had already been a visiting critic and studio tutor for six years at the Aberdeen-based Scott Sutherland School of Architecture at Robert Gordon University before he was appointed lecturer and studio leader in 1991.

He formed Hutton Rattray Architects with his friend Graeme Hutton a year later but continued teaching at Robert Gordon until 2006.

His first significant writing commissions began during the 90s – works that included Building constructs: Richard Murphy Architects for Cambridge University Press’s Architectural Research Quarterly (ARQ).

He went on to work for the ARQ between 2000 and 2014, first as associate editor then editor, before joining the editorial board of Design Exchange Magazine. He also spent nine years as a senior lecturer at the University of Dundee (2007-2016).

In 2016, work completed on an extension to his own home in Marchbank, Bieldside, just outside Aberdeen, which was designed with emerging practice Baillie Baillie and Ross Aitchison, now of Collective Architecture.

He is survived by his wife and three children

Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama – The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, Scotland

Source:Shutterstock/vetasster

Graeme Hutton architect and professor of architecture at University of Dundee
That universities ‘transform lives’ is an often touted epithet, yet, with exposure to the right teachers and an appetite for learning, it is one that I firmly attest to.

We had absurd dialogues which left our sides aching from laughter

In 1984, Robin Webster, the new head of architecture at what was then Robert Gordon’s Technical College employed Charles, then seconded from Leslie Martin at Nimmo & Partners, as a studio tutor. This changed my world.

As a tutor and critic he brought out a way of seeing and thinking architecturally that embodied rationalism at its core yet sought poetry in its execution. With our shared interest in fields also outside of architecture we became firm friends and established Hutton Rattray Architects. Although short-lived it was that intense period of practice together in all its forms – designing, writing and teaching – that created a professional intimacy that lasted nearly 40 years. We also had great fun together, enjoying abstract and absurd dialogues which left our sides aching from laughter.

I will miss him more than words can say. He will remain my critical conscience for the rest of my life.

Robin G Webster, partner at Cameron Webster Architects and former professor of Scott Sutherland School of Architecture
The sudden loss of Charles diminishes all who knew and loved him.

He was a very talented architect and designer, who would explore many options before deciding what to eventually do. This resulted in a reductive approach that had great beauty, simplicity and clarity. Sadly he did not build a great deal, but the alterations that he made to his home in Bieldside are testament to his talent.

He was an excellent critic and, while he could be dismissive of a poor effort, he was enthusiastic and inspiring in discussion. He expected everyone to be able to see the merit in good design, and despaired when an unconsidered proposal got planning permission.

He loved to edit architectural magazines, starting when a student in Edinburgh and continuing to do so for a number of different ones, including the Cambridge research publication ARQ, to which he brought a lightness of touch, a graphic elegance and a focus on the core subject of architecture.

He was a knowledgeable and discerning lover of music, as well as of simple good food and wine.

He brought unfailing humour to the bleakest occasion. A simple telephone call would notoriously result in helpless laughter: when telling a funny story he would hardly be able to continue to the end, bringing tears to everyone else’s eyes including his own. I always greatly looked forward to meeting him and can hardly believe I will no longer be able to do so.

Torsten Schmiedeknecht, reader in architecture, University of Liverpool
Charles was a good friend and we collaborated on various publications for almost 20 years. I will never forget the evening I first met him in a restaurant in Liverpool, walking home afterwards and thinking what a great pleasure it was to have met Charles. His intelligence, knowledge of and passion for architecture, warmth, love of life and great sense of humour were immediately evident.

I felt honoured over the years to be able to work with him, but more importantly to call him a friend. To me to have met him was indeed one of those lucky occurrences that happen only a few times in one’s lifetime. Charles was great company, a brilliant and generous host and he was one of the funniest people I have ever met – he often had me in tears when recounting one of his many anecdotes.

His analytical skills and ability to understand buildings were impressive

Despite his encyclopedic knowledge of architecture, his skills as a designer and his great ability to pass these on to his students, he did not ever take himself too seriously and he could always see and appreciate the funny and absurd sides of life. He was a wonderful writer; organised (if often last minute…), well-informed, precise and to the point, witty and beautifully phrased. His analytical skills and ability to understand buildings were impressive and always a pleasure to witness.

I will greatly miss Charles, both for his passion for architecture and for being an utterly delightful person.

Hugh Cullum, Hugh Cullum Architects
Charles was a wonderful enthusiast, always with a twinkle in his eye which belied a wry sense of humour and healthy dose of scepticism. He very kindly wrote about our practice a few times and, most notably, wrote a chapter in our practice book published by Blackdog (one of the last through their doors).

He was notably hospitable, having me round to dinner at his house and generally ensuring I was comfortable and well catered for. I very much appreciated his knowledge of theory, which he wore very lightly, and his ability to balance it with a very practical grasp of the mucky business of building.

Ever since a highly enjoyable dinner with him after the opening of the RSA exhibition in 2018, Christiane and I have known him as the ‘sherry man’. He ordered a bottle of sherry to begin the proceedings which, since there were only five of us, meant that we were certainly off to a good start! Alas now two of the five with whom we ate are no longer with us.

Alona Martinez Perez, architect and senior lecturer at Leicester School of Architecture
I was a part-time lecturer when I met Charles. I was young then and he was not just excellent but a real gentleman. I am very saddened by his departure. Like Rafael Moneo, he could do all three things brilliantly: teaching, writing and practising. He was one of those strange instances of brilliance, humbleness, and generosity. I always remember him with Graeme.

Jude Barber, director at Collective Architecture
Charles was a driving force and colourful character at the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture when I studied there in the 1990s. His infectious laugh and warm demeanour sat happily alongside his passion and knowledge for architecture – as both an art and a discipline. He inspired so many and will be sorely missed.

John McRae, director at Orms
Charles was my tutor in both first and honours years at Scott Sutherland School of Architecture and, along with Graeme Hutton, has had a huge influence on my career. There was an air of change when I started at university back in the early 90s, and Charles introduced me,, and the rest of the year, to Tervakoski sketching paper, Faber Castell clutch pencil, 6B pencils for sketching and Alvar Aalto.

He was always ready to share an anecdote, impersonate visiting critics and just have a laugh. I will miss the ruffle of the hair when exasperated by someone or something (often the blue Renault or bicycle breaking down).

He loved finding new practices that were quietly delivering high-quality thinking and buildings

I was also fortunate to work closely with Charles and Graeme on projects they were undertaking during summer breaks. There was always a pot of strong coffee and classical music blasting out to keep the creative juices flowing.

I kept in touch with Charles post university, and he joined me on the editorial board of Design Exchange (DE) magazine. He had an amazing gift of being able to write wonderfully (and critically) about architecture and loved finding new practices that were quietly delivering high-quality thinking and buildings, eg Bach & Mora, Claus en Kaan and Geurst & Schulze Architecten.

A great character and true gentleman; you will be sorely missed Charles and I thank you for all of your support, enthusiasm, encouragement and words of wisdom.

David McClean, Robert Gordon University
I count Charles as one of the many fine people that I have had the opportunity to work with. He was one of the very finest. He had an almost constant air of lightness and good humour, which was matched by a sharp intellect, strong architectural convictions, and a deep commitment to architecture education. Such a mix made his company both stimulating and highly enjoyable, and I have many fond memories of intense debate, irreverent banter, and abundant laughter.

Not only was he a skilled teacher, he was also an excellent writer and editor, and I learned much from the clarity of his analysis and thinking.

His infectious personality and generosity of spirit endeared him to students and colleagues alike

Charles had the kind of infectious personality and generosity of spirit that endeared him to students and colleagues alike, and as Reading tributes on various platforms, the sentiment that stands out repeatedly is that we have also lost a gentleman.

05 house on marchbank road

House on Marchbank Road – Baillie Baillie Architects in collaboration with Ross Aitchison & Charles Rattray

Source:Chris Berridge

Gordon Murray, architect and visiting lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University
A great friend and colleague whom I first met on an RIBA visiting board and through his editing role on ARQ. A great draftsman designer critic and writer whose absence in recent years was missed by a lot of friends. His passing is very sad but brings back fond memories.

David Henderson, director at Glenn Howells Architects
Charles was a real character, always enthusiastic and passionate about architecture and teaching. I was part of a great weekend masterclass with him along with Richard MacCormac and David Lea up in Cromarty in 1990, he didn’t wait for the car to come to a stop before he got out of the door. I hope that all who knew him carry a bit of that spirit.

Gary Clark, principal at HOK
Charles was a true gentleman. I remember his infectious enthusiasm for architecture, his trademark chuckle after one of his anecdotes and his insightful critique of both student and practising architects’ work. A great loss.

Anne Walker, design and technology teacher
I recall him arriving as a visiting critic at [Scott Sutherland School of Architecture] during my years there in the 80s. I remember thinking he was way too young to be a tutor. He was charming, had a wry smile and was always chuckling about something or other. He was someone who I recall always being of a happy disposition. He was passionate about architecture and genuinely appeared to love engaging with the students. Sad news.

Ross Aitchison, architect at Collective Architecture
I met Charles when he was my external examiner at ECA back in 2010. On hearing that I had six months to fill in my Part 1 year, and that I was heading home to Aberdeen, he invited me to spend it with him, working on some projects on his home. He would become a great mentor and friend, a deeply generous supporter and sounding-board from our very first meeting.

He opened my eyes to so much of architecture

He opened my eyes to so much of architecture and has had a profound impact on how I work and think. I’ll miss his humour, critical eye, and conversations over coffee and Tervakoski paper.

Emily Cavanagh, University of Dundee graduate (2014)
I graduated from his and Graeme Hutton’s Architecture and the City unit at Duncan of Jordanstone in 2014. Up to that point, architecture made little sense to me and I was seriously considering leaving university before completing my Master’s year. When we received the brief I remember feeling an instant spark of excitement after reading the project brief that Charles and Graeme had issued for their unit.

During that year, I remember a lot of conversations, crits, late nights, laughter and, gradually, things began to fall into place as I gained more confidence in my position as an architect. I attribute this to the discourse that was encouraged among the students but mostly to the leadership and brilliant tutelage of Charles and Graeme. They ran the unit as a collaborative office, where everyone’s thesis was interrelated and engaged in a dialogue with the existing city where we lived. The approach and attitude to problem-solving that they taught me is still one which I employ today.

Charles had an open-door policy and his help and insight allowed me to progress my project to a level beyond what I was capable of previously. He really invested in us as individuals and his attention and guidance allowed me to develop as a professional, which will remain with me forever.



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