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Basic Biographical Details

Name: Isi Israel Metzstein
Designation: Architect
Born: 7 July 1928
Died: 10 January 2012
Bio Notes: Isi Israel Metzstein was born in the Mitte district of Berlin on 7 July 1928. His parents, Efraim and Rachel Metzstein, were Jews of Polish origin who had fled their native country in 1920 in search of a better life. Isi had a twin sister, Jenny, as well as two older brothers, Lee and Josef, and a younger brother, Leo. His father died in 1933, leaving his mother to bring up the five children alone. After the terror of Kristallnacht in November 1938, during which Isi’s all-Jewish school was set alight, his mother resolved that she and her children should flee. Thus, at eleven years of age, Isi became part of the Kindertransport, boarding the SS ‘George Washington’ which brought him to Britain.

Isi was initially taken in by a family in Hardgate, West Dunbartonshire, and was subsequently placed in a hostel with other refugee children. His mother and siblings having likewise managed to escape Germany (his oldest brother Josef has fled earlier, Leo and Isi’s twin sister Jenny arrived separately by train, and his mother and sister Lee escaped later), the family was among relatively few to be reunited at the end of the Second World War, and they settled in Glasgow, which he soon came to consider his home town – although he never lost his strong central European Jewish accent. Despite the fact that the course of his life was so closely determined by the rise of Nazism, he would always insist that he was not a ‘victim’ of the Holocaust, stressing that he had been fortunate enough to avoid its horrors and indeed to benefit from opportunities offered in his adopted country.

The young Isi attended Hyndland School. When he left in 1945, he had his sights set on a career in architecture; a friend’s mother was the seamstress of Eden Coia, wife of the celebrated architect Jack Coia, and it was through this connection that he secured an apprenticeship in the firm of Gillespie, Kidd & Coia, of which Coia was the only surviving partner. In the same year, Metzstein enrolled for evening classes at Glasgow School of Art. There he met Andy MacMillan, and the pair quickly became firm friends. Every Wednesday, what was often referred to as the ‘Isi and Andy’ double act could be found at the King’s Arms on Elmbank Street, discussing architecture, culture and politics.

Metzstein was to remain in the same architectural firm for the rest of his professional life, and MacMillan joined him there in 1954. The two were to carry out most of the practice’s design work from around 1957 onwards, as Coia approached retirement. Metzstein was elected a student member of the RIBA in 1957 though he does not seem to have become an Associate.

Working in a bold and highly original Modernist idiom, Metzstein and MacMillan collaborated on a series of notable Roman Catholic churches between that year and 1980, of which St Bride’s in East Kilbride (1963–4) is among the most remarkable. Their masterwork is considered to be St Peter’s Seminary, Cardross, completed in 1966, which was to be the first modern building to be awarded Category-A listed status. They were also responsible for a series of important university buildings, including halls of residence at Hull (1963–7), additions to Wadham College, Oxford (1971–7), and Robinson College, Cambridge (1974–80). Although strongly inspired by Le Corbusier, they drew on sources as diverse as Victorian Glasgow, medieval urbanism and abstraction, and Metzstein always emphasised the importance of designing from first principles.

In 1969 Metzstein began teaching at the Glasgow School of Art, and he spent an increasing amount of time doing so as commissions grew harder to come by in the 1970s. He was appointed Professor of Architecture at Edinburgh University in 1984, returned to teach in Glasgow in 1991, and also taught at the Architectural Association in London, as well as lecturing throughout the UK and further afield – including at Syracuse, with Richard Murphy. He earned a reputation as a great thinker and a highly inspirational teacher, the directness of his advice to students and colleagues alike balanced by great warmth and wit; MacMillan remembers him as ‘the king of the Jewish one-liner’. He and MacMillan were to receive a lifetime achievement award for teaching from the RIBA in 2007.

He met his future wife Dany, also of central European Jewish origin, at a cocktail party; it was a successful set-up that resulted in love at first sight. They married in 1967 and had three children: Saul, Mark and Ruth. All three would study under him, and his son Saul recalls that ‘he was a father figure to his students, of which there were many hundreds’. Metzstein shared his passion for travel with his family; he was particularly fond of New York, Venice and Paris. Among his other interests were science, language, puzzles and cinema; he stated that if it had been possible in 1940s Glasgow, he would have liked to become a film director.

Metzstein died at his home in Glasgow on 10 January 2012. He was survived by his wife, his three children, a grandson (Eli), and his sister Jenny and brother Leo.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 3Glasgow, ScotlandPrivate/business   
Item 2 of 350, Great Western Road, Glasgow, ScotlandPrivateBefore 1960 *After 1965 
Item 3 of 31, Falcon Terrace, Glasgow, ScotlandPrivate1970 *  

* earliest date known from documented sources.


Employment and Training

Employers

The following individuals or organisations employed or trained this architect (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 3Gillespie Kidd & Coia1945c. 1950Apprentice 
Item 2 of 3Gillespie Kidd & CoiaAfter 1950Before 1966 Job title between apprenticeship and partnership uncertain
Item 3 of 3Gillespie Kidd & CoiaBefore 1966 Partner 

Employees or Pupils

The following individuals were employed or trained by this architect (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 1Mark Baines  Assistantp129, Glendinning, 1997

Buildings and Designs

This architect was involved with the following buildings or structures from the date specified (click on an item to view details):
 Date startedBuilding nameTown, district or villageIslandCity or countyCountryNotes
Item 1 of 511953'Domino' flats, Murray 1st DevelopmentMurray, East Kilbride LanarkshireScotland 
Item 2 of 511954Country HouseLochwinnoch RenfrewshireScotlandAlterations and additions
Item 3 of 511954St Joachim's RC Church and PresbyteryCarmyle GlasgowScotland 
Item 4 of 511954St Mary's RC Church  GlasgowScotland 
Item 5 of 511954University of Glasgow, Anatomy Building  GlasgowScotlandAlterations
Item 6 of 511955Oratory, 19 Park Circus  GlasgowScotlandConversion of operating theatre into oratory
Item 7 of 511955St Maria Goretti RC ChurchCranhill GlasgowScotlandDesign only
Item 8 of 511955Turnbull Hall Chapel  GlasgowScotland 
Item 9 of 511956Catholic Retreat HouseCraighead, Bothwell LanarkshireScotlandChapel formed from conservatory
Item 10 of 511956Simshill School  GlasgowScotland 
Item 11 of 511956St Paul's RC ChurchGlenrothes FifeScotland 
Item 12 of 511956St Peter's RC Church and PresbyteryPartick GlasgowScotlandInterior remodelled (and furnishings)
Item 13 of 511957Kildrum 1 HousingKildrum, Cumbernauld New Town LanarkshireScotland 
Item 14 of 511957St Kessog's RC ChurchBallach DunbartonshireScotland 
Item 15 of 511957St Paul's RC Church  GlasgowScotland 
Item 16 of 511957University of Glasgow, Garscube Site, Veterinary Hospital & SchoolGarscube, Bearsden GlasgowScotlandHospital
Item 17 of 511959Lockhart HospitalLanark LanarkshireScotlandMaternity Hospital
Item 18 of 511959St Martin's RC Church, Ardencraig RoadCastlemilk GlasgowScotland 
Item 19 of 511959St Peter's SeminaryCardross DunbartonshireScotland 
Item 20 of 511959Willox Park Home sheltered housingDumbarton DunbartonshireScotland 
Item 21 of 511960Kildrum Primary SchoolCumbernauld LanarkshireScotland 
Item 22 of 511960St Mary of the Angels RC ChurchCamelon, Falkirk StirlingshireScotland 
Item 23 of 511960St Mary of the Assumption Church, Bo'nessBo'ness / Borrowstouness West LothianScotland 
Item 24 of 51c. 1960SSt Benedict's RC Church, DrumchapelDrumchapel GlasgowScotlandDesigned by Isi Metzstein
Item 25 of 511961Howford SchoolPollok GlasgowScotland 
Item 26 of 511961Kilgraston Convent ChapelBridge of Earn PerthshireScotlandLow courtyard of school buildings and chapel
Item 27 of 511962St Benedict's RC ChurchEasterhouse GlasgowScotland 
Item 28 of 511963Our Lady's RC High SchoolCumbernauld LanarkshireScotland 
Item 29 of 511963St Bride's RC ChurchEast Kilbride LanarkshireScotland 
Item 30 of 511963St Joseph's RC ChurchDuntocher DunbartonshireScotland 
Item 31 of 511963University of Hull, halls of residenceHull YorkshireEngland 
Item 32 of 511964John Ogilvie Hall, LangsideLangside GlasgowScotland 
Item 33 of 511964Our Lady of Good Counsel RC Church  GlasgowScotland 
Item 34 of 511964Round Riding Road housingDumbarton DunbartonshireScotland 
Item 35 of 511964Sacred Heart RC ChurchCumbernauld LanarkshireScotland 
Item 36 of 511964St Patrick's RC ChurchKilsyth StirlingshireScotland 
Item 37 of 511968BOAC Building, Buchanan Street  GlasgowScotland 
Item 38 of 511968Notre Dame College, Consuela HallBearsden GlasgowScotland 
Item 39 of 511968Notre Dame College, Eyre Hall Bearsden GlasgowScotland 
Item 40 of 511968Notre Dame College, Julie Billiart Hall of ResidenceBearsden GlasgowScotland 
Item 41 of 511968Notre Dame College, Lescher HallBearsden GlasgowScotland 
Item 42 of 511968Notre Dame College, Ogilvie House Bearsden GlasgowScotland 
Item 43 of 511969Notre Dame CollegeBearsden GlasgowScotland 
Item 44 of 511970St Margaret's HospiceClydebank DunbartonshireScotlandFirst part
Item 45 of 511970St Margaret's RC ChurchClydebank DunbartonshireScotland 
Item 46 of 511971Wadham College  OxfordEnglandAlterations and additions
Item 47 of 511972Cumbernauld Technical CollegeCumbernauld DunbartonshireScotland 
Item 48 of 511974Robinson CollegeCambridge CambridgeshireEngland 
Item 49 of 511975Bonar Hall  DundeeScotland 
Item 50 of 511981Glasgow School of Art refectory  GlasgowScotland 
Item 51 of 51Early 1980sCraobh Haven villageCraobh Haven ArgyllScotland 

References

Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
 Author(s)DateTitlePartPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 5Glendinning, Miles1997Rebuilding Scotland: The Postwar Vision, 1945-75  Tuckwell Press Ltdpp32, 86, 116, 119, 132-40, 149-50, 153, 170 Cardross Seminary
p36 BOAC Office
p38-9
p41 Robinson College
p60 Kildrum I
p129 Photgraph of Professor Andrew MacMillan, Isi Metztein and Ian Gow 1990
p129-140
p156 St Paul's, Glenrothes
p170-1 Cumbernauld Original Housing Areas
p172 Kildrum Primary School
p173 St Bride's
Item 2 of 5Miles Glendinning, Diane Watters, David Whitham Docomomo Scotland Leaflet  p226, p229, St Peter's Seminary and Cumbernauld Residential zone images
Item 3 of 5RIBA1961Kalendar 1960-61   
Item 4 of 5Watters, Diane1997Cardross Seminary: Gillespie Kidd and Coia and the architecture of postwar Catholicism RCAHMS 
Item 5 of 5Willis, Peter1977New architecture in Scotland  p7
p11 BOAC Offices, Glasgow
p34-5 Our Lady of Good Council, Glasgow
p36-7 St Margaret's Church, Glasgow
p56-9 St Peter's Seminary

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 6Herald, The3 December 2013  Obituary of Leo Metzstein.
Item 2 of 6RIAS Quarterly20129Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS)Spring 2012
Item 3 of 6Scotsman16 January 2012  Obituary by his son Saul, p.43
Item 4 of 6The Independent27 January 2012  Obituary by Martin Childs
Item 5 of 6The Times12 January 2012  Mike Wade, 'Scottish architecture's "conscience" dies', p.4
Item 6 of 6The Times18 January 2012  Obituary, p.52

Images

© All rights reserved. © courtesy of RIAS 

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