Lives Remembered

Robert Maxwell: Co Down-born architect and educator had celebrated career on both sides of Atlantic

Robert Maxwell pictured on the roof of Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation in Marseille for his 2017 autobiography The Time of My Life in Architecture

CO Down-born architect, educator and writer Robert Maxwell enjoyed a celebrated career on both sides of the Atlantic.

As one of a group of influential post-war modernist architects he left his physical mark on London before inculcating a generation of students at the prestigious Princeton University.

Along the way he once enjoyed dinner with the French philosopher Jacques Derrida and met Fidel Castro in Cuba at the height of the Cold War.

Born into a strict Presbyterian family in Downpatrick in 1922, Maxwell might have followed his parents' wish to become a doctor only for an aversion to the sight of blood.

His headmaster at Down High School suggested architecture and after sending off some artwork to the Royal Institute of British Architects, Maxwell was granted a scholarship to study in Liverpool.

As a teenager he had heard the speeches of Hitler on the family's Pye radio and he volunteered to fight in World War II in 1944. He joined hoping to see the baroque churches of southern Germany, but instead found himself keeping the peace in post-partition India.

Maxwell began his career as an architect in London, where his work included an extension for the Royal Festival Hall.

The river facade of the Royal Festival Hall Robert Maxwell worked on for London County Council

In 1962 he began lecturing at the Bartlett School at University College London, before being appointed Dean of Architecture at Princeton in 1982.

It described him as a "remarkable educator", known for his critical writing linking modern architecture with themes in art, literature and music.

Former Princeton professor Anthony Vidler also said he was "an accomplished watercolor painter and celebrated for his exuberant after-dinner, impromptu piano recitals — ragtime, traditional jazz and music-hall songs were his specialty.”

Returning to Britain in 1993, Maxwell spent the next decade teaching at the Architectural Association. In retirement he was a prolific writer and gave lectures around the world.

Robert Millar Maxwell died aged 97 on January 2 in Aix-en-Provence, France.

Among Robert Maxwell's early architectural projects were flats at Royal Street in central London built in 1957. Picture from Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Collections

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Lives Remembered