Basic Biographical Details

Name: James Richard Latimer
Designation: Architect
Born: 31 July 1930
Died: 5 May 2013
Bio Notes: James Richard Latimer was born on 31 July 1930 in Belfast; his father was a police sergeant. His school life was hampered by dyslexia, at a time when the condition was not formally recognised. However, he credits his early promise in draughtsmanship partly to the condition, which in his case was accompanied by an enhanced ability to visualise in three dimensions.

His parents were of limited means, making a paid apprenticeship impossible, but he secured a fee-free articled apprenticeship with the president of the Royal Society of Ulster Architects which he completed soon after the end of the Second World War. Given the date, the architect in question was presumably Robert Hanna Gibson. Latimer – unable, for financial reasons, to follow his contemporaries to university – remained in the latter’s firm, by then Gibson & Taylor, for a short time after completion of his apprenticeship. While there, he became increasingly interested in the work being carried out by more cutting-edge modern firms such as that of George Grey Wornum. This drove him to leave at the age of 18 to find a placement instead with Heuston & Beaumont, whose practice focused largely on bank work and housing. On arrival at that firm, he immediately mentioned Dunlambert School, an establishment for some 750 boys which the firm had been commissioned to design. He was entrusted with the project, designing the building in brick with steel frame, and carrying out all the detail drawings. However, at that point he was not yet being paid, and so was still having to rely on his parents for financial support. A breakthrough came when Beaumont was designing a house in Lurgan for which he wanted large sliding doors of a kind that were not then being manufactured. Latimer made his mark by conceiving a design for these that would prevent water penetration by an overhang that took the bottom of the doors below the sills. Impressed, Beaumont judged that on the strength of this, Latimer merited an annual salary. Thereafter he spent a short time working for the Ministry of Finance in Belfast in order to earn a better wage.

During this period, he attended a course at the Belfast Art College on which he learnt Beaux-Arts principles of architectural drawing and design. He found it fascinating, and he particularly remembers (and indeed kept the drawings for) one project that involved designing an orangery for a 17th-century Italian garden. His effort, with its red-brick arcade, found favour with the college’s principal, who nevertheless harshly criticised the Roman lettering he had so carefully executed along the bottom of it, rubbing it out and replacing it with perfect freehand writing.

Latimer passed the RIBA intermediate exam at the unusually young age of 19. It was also at this age that he designed and executed his first complete building: a house for his uncle in Fermanagh, which took advantage of government subsidies being offered at that time for homes of up to a thousand square feet. He describes this as ‘a terrible house’ with no insulation, an excessively large bathroom and an overly small fire, betraying the inexperience of its designer. The family, who moved there from a ‘lovely stone farmhouse with whitewashed walls and a thatched roof and a turf fire’, were eventually obliged to leave due to its being too near the border with Eire: they were an Orange family and were fired at by IRA sympathisers from the other side.

At the age of 21, Latimer was ready to gain broader experience, and he secured interviews with Michael Scott, John Hope and Desmond Fitzgerald. The outcome was the offer of a position with his preferred practice among the three – that of Michael Scott. It was only on announcing his success in finding a position in Scott’s office that he finally had the chance to meet the Ministry of Finance’s chief architect, Rippenham, who was clearly impressed with the impending move. Still drawing regularly despite being in charge of a huge department, he advised Latimer: ‘Never leave the drawing board’ – advice to which Latimer would adhere throughout his working life.

In Scott’s office he was set to work on the Dublin Bus Station – ‘a terrific building to work on’, with a Portland stone finish, bronze windows, and high-tech sliding doors that cost a thousand pounds each. The appearance of one of his drawings for this on the front cover of the Architectural Review was a source of great pride. He was extremely happy in Scott’s office, and remembers Dublin as ‘a wonderful place to be young in’. The one negative aspect of daily life was the fact that he was a Protestant among Catholics, so making connections proved difficult. He did form a romantic attachment, but suffered heartbreak when his dearly loved girlfriend died in a fire.

He was eventually to leave Scott’s practice in 1953, mainly because he ‘was having too nice a time’ and so was not managing to finish the drawings that would enable him to pass the final RIBA exam, despite having almost completed them before entering that office. He returned to live with his parents in Belfast for that purpose, and appears to have spent more time in the Houston & Beaumont office. Admitted ARIBA in 1955, he then began to look for experience ‘across the water’, initially considering London, but finding that prospect too daunting. Instead, he applied for the post of senior assistant in the firm of Robert Matthew in Edinburgh, where he was interviewed first by the existing senior assistant, Tom Spaven, and then by Matthew himself. He was unaware that Matthew was campaigning for all architectural teaching to take place in universities rather than in external studios – knowledge which could have dampened his confidence – and he was offered the position. In Matthew’s office, one of his main achievements was the detailing of Queen’s College, Dundee – a random rubble construction eleven storeys high. He later recalled: ‘It was an amazing thing for someone of my age to arrive and find yourself immediately dealing with a job that size!’

He met his future wife, Louise, at a dance at Edinburgh University the night after an Irish match, and married her in 1958. At his stag night in Leith, a colleague presented him with an envelope given to him by Matthew when he had been told of the impending marriage; to his surprise, it contained a cheque for the princely sum of £150. Happy at what amounted to a gesture of recognition, but nevertheless ambitious, he left the firm soon afterwards, when he was invited to return to Houston & Beaumont in 1959 to work on a major hospital commission in Lurgan which involved adding a wing to a historic workhouse building, for a salary of £1,000 per year. It was only at the subsequent opening of Queen’s College that he was to realise the importance of loyalty to Matthew who, while not directly uncivil, did not address him at all. While employed by Houston & Beaumont, Latimer set up a private practice in partnership with a Belfast friend, Gerald McSheffrey, carrying out small jobs in the evenings.

Undercurrents of sectarianism affected life in Belfast; it seemed it was only in the world of architecture that the two sides could ever mix. The couple decided to return to Scotland in 1963, together with their first son, Patrick (born 1960 and later to become a policeman). James Latimer had secured a post working on Cumbernauld's new town centre, where he met and formed what would be a lifelong friendship with Jim Johnson.

The attraction of Edinburgh remained strong, however, and the family was at last able to return there when Latimer found employment with the Livingston Development Corporation, under chief architect Peter Daniel and in association with engineers John Laing. His time there taught him a great deal about industrialised housing and system building, in particular the Jespersen system, but it was marred by a personality clash between the chairman of the Corporation’s board, a brigadier, and Daniel, whom Latimer fondly remembers as a ‘hippie architect type’. The tensions came to a head and the two sides organised a meeting; the Corporation’s architects stated their support for Daniel, while the Board invited another architect to join the debate. As it happened, the architect they chose was Robert Matthew. Latimer objected to derogatory references made by a retired admiral on the Board to ‘the men’, and emphasised that they, the architects, were professional people with their own opinions. He resolved to leave the Corporation, unwilling to work for the commercial architect who was lined up to take over from Daniel.

Much to his surprise, he received a phone call soon afterwards from Robert Matthew’s office – by then Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall & Partners (RMJM) – which had recently taken on the commission for Ninewells Hospital and needed more manpower to carry it out. Having first secured confirmation that Matthew himself was indeed happy to have him back, he gladly accepted the offer. He worked under Alan Wightman on the £30-million building, which he describes as ‘a brilliant design’. Latimer was not personally involved in its planning, but was first entrusted with the door schedule, which accounted for a baffling 4,000 doors. The fact that the facility contained both hospital and medical schools made this a complicated task, as it was essential to ensure security of information where items such as exam papers were concerned. Investigating the options available, Latimer visited the Finnish factory of Abloy locks, in which integrated microchips allowed endless varieties of individual key to be combined in a single master key. The Abloy system was duly used at Ninewells. Latimer went on to oversee the detailing and construction of the Polyclinic section. Unsurprisingly the project, initially anticipated to last four years, ran over time. The contractor took the architects to the court of arbitration, and Latimer was assigned as Tom Spaven’s standby; he was immensely relieved that it never became necessary for him to step in, as he continued to have a dread of reading out written documents in public.

In 1966–9 he prepared proposals for a new headquarters for RMJM in Miller Row, to accommodate what was by then a staff of some 490 people. Never realised due to a change in the economic climate, his drawings show a low-rise, high-density, stepped design, tiered down the steep slope to the river, including flats to attract high-quality staff from London. Matthew also entrusted Latimer, on the strength of his experience in Cumbernauld and Livingston, with an industrialised house-building project in Tripoli; RMJM had seemingly been chosen for the project due to the fact that a Hungarian former employee of the firm, Imre Radnoti, was then based in Libya and had formed important connections there. A sociologist, Pat Bagot, accompanied Latimer and his team on their visits, advising them as to social mores in the region both to prevent faux pas and to inform the planning of the houses, as well as acting as an intermediary between female future inhabitants of the houses and the male architects, whom they were not permitted to meet. The brief was dictated by the new Libyan government of Colonel Gaddafi, and the houses were required to provide a clearly staged space in which visitors could be kept separate from these women. They also needed to offer outdoor space that was not overlooked, so that the women could have access to fresh air without being seen. Local architecture was studied in detail, particularly for its suitability to the climate. While he found the confined lifestyle of the Libyan women heartbreaking, Latimer would later regard the Libya houses as ‘the cleverest thing I ever did’, and it was around this time that he was made an associate in Matthew’s firm.

By then Latimer had met Michael Laird several times, and in 1971 Laird invited Latimer to join him in partnership. The task in hand at the time of his arrival was the Royal Bank of Scotland Data Centre on Fettes Row, and Laird asked Latimer to take charge of it. The project was a success and Latimer was delighted to receive a letter from the Royal Bank’s directors on its completion, saying that it had been the biggest and the best-run job they had ever commissioned. However, there were tensions within the Laird partnership and Latimer left the firm. He worked in collaboration with Grant Gordon, a former associate of Laird’s, who had already become a partner in an English firm that had set up an Edinburgh branch. Gordon initially worked with Latimer in parallel with staying with the latter firm, but when the firm decided to sell the office, the two entered into formal partnership as Gordon & Latimer. Concentrating largely on bank and sheltered housing work, along with GP surgeries, they also built the major project of Murrayfield Hospital.

By the time of his partnership with Gordon, Latimer had become involved in what he considered to be the most important contribution of his career: the creation of the Old Town Committee for Conservation and Renewal for a further ten years, until around 2004. Latterly, Latimer was also active in the Cockburn Association. His fascination with Scotland’s old towns – St Andrews, Linlithgow, old Glasgow and Inverness, as well as Edinburgh – had begun when he first arrived in the country from Belfast. He found them infinitely more interesting in their specific response to local climate and society than the standardised European model of Edinburgh’s New Town. Later, he was serving on the planning committee of the Edinburgh Architectural Association when its president asked him together with planner Bob Strang to write an article on that city’s Old Town, which had been suffering a long decline, and by then had only about 3,000 remaining residents living in miserable conditions. Soon after publication of this article, Latimer received a telephone call from Richard Ewing, who asked if he would like to join a group who were trying to bring about improvements to the Old Town’s fate. In 1980 they set up a committee, also comprising Strang and city planner David Cameron, and began meeting at lunchtimes to devise a course of action. An appeal to the decade-old New Town Conservation Committee for help yielded nothing, but they eventually managed to launch initiatives of their own accord, including using a government work-creation scheme to employ students and unemployed planners and architects to undertake various surveys and studies. In the mid-1980s they appointed a director, Jim Johnson, who was to prove an enormous asset to the cause. Latimer retired from Gordon & Latimer at the age of 64.

Latimer died on 5 May 2013.

Latimer’s daughter became an architect in her own right, having been a Rome scholar, but gave up the profession after a time.

[Some dates are uncertain.]

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 4Livingston Development Corporation/22, North Bridge , Edinburgh, ScotlandBusinessc. 1963  
Item 2 of 422, Moray Place, Edinburgh, ScotlandBusiness1971  
Item 3 of 45, Forres Street, Edinburgh, ScotlandBusiness1974  
Item 4 of 4Canongate, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivate1994  

Employment and Training


The following individuals or organisations employed or trained this architect (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 12Robert Hanna Gibsonc. 1944(?)c. 1947(?)ApprenticeLatimer was apprenticed to the President of the Royal Society of Ulster Architects - presumably Gibson, given the rough dates
Item 2 of 12Gibson & Taylorc. 1947(?)c. 1948(?)Assistant(?) 
Item 3 of 12Houston & Beaumontc. 1948(?)c. 1950  
Item 4 of 12Michael John Scottc. 1951c. 1953  
Item 5 of 12Houston & Beaumontc. 1953(?)c. 1955  
Item 6 of 12Robert Hogg Matthewc. 19551956Architect 
Item 7 of 12Robert Matthew Johnson-Marshall (RMJM)1956c. 1959(?)Architect 
Item 8 of 12Houston & Beaumont19591963  
Item 9 of 12Cumbernauld New Town Development Corporation1963c. 1963  
Item 10 of 12Livingston New Town Development Corporation Architects Departmentc. 1963Mid 1960s(?)Architect 
Item 11 of 12Michael Laird & Partners19711981Partner 
Item 12 of 12Gordon & Latimer1981 Partner 

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 32 Goretex Factory & Offices, Kirkton CampusLivingston West LothianScotland 
Item 2 of 32 Merchiston Castle School, Creative Arts Centre  EdinburghScotland 
Item 3 of 32c. 1948Dunlambert School  BelfastNorthern Irelandworking for Houston & Beaumont
Item 4 of 32c. 1949Private house beside a lake  County FermanaghNorthern Irelanddesigned house for uncle, at age of 19
Item 5 of 321951Dublin Bus Station  DublinEireworking under Michael Scott
Item 6 of 321953(?)Newry Council OfficesNewry County DownNorthern Irelandresponsible for designing, while working for Houston & Beaumont; heavily inspired by his recent visit to Denmark
Item 7 of 321957Queen's College  DundeeScotlandworking for RMJM
Item 8 of 321959Lurgan and Portadown District Hospital  County ArmaghNorthern Irelandworking for Houston & Beaumont
Item 9 of 321966Office for architectural practice, Dean VillageDean Village EdinburghScotlandinitial designs - unexecuted
Item 10 of 32Mid 1960sLivingston New Town (Glasgow Overspill)Livingston West Lothian and MidlothianScotlandworking under Peter Daniel
Item 11 of 32Mid 1960sNinewells Hospital and Medical School  DundeeScotlandworking under Harold Wightman at RMJM
Item 12 of 321971Industrialised Building Project (IBP) housing projectGurgi Tripoli (near)Libyadesigned housing
Item 13 of 321971(?)University of Edinburgh, King's Buildings, central facilities complex, including boiler house  EdinburghScotland 
Item 14 of 321971University of Edinburgh, King's Buildings, refectory  EdinburghScotland 
Item 15 of 321972India Place redevelopment  EdinburghScotland 
Item 16 of 321975Standard Life Assurance Co  EdinburghScotlandExtension Phase 3.
Item 17 of 32Before 1975Moulin HotelPitlochry PerthshireScotlandReconstruction and extension - may be involved depending on date
Item 18 of 32Before 1975Royal BankPort Seton East LothianScotland 
Item 19 of 32Before 1975Royal BankEyemouth BerwickshireScotlandMay be involved depending on date.
Item 20 of 32Before 1975St Mary's Street development, Ben Line Building  EdinburghScotlandOffice interiors
Item 21 of 321976Standard Life office  EdinburghScotland 
Item 22 of 321977Rosebery HouseHaymarket EdinburghScotland 
Item 23 of 321977Royal Bank Data Centre  EdinburghScotland 
Item 24 of 321978Arbrook Products Ltd FactoryLivingston West LothianScotland 
Item 25 of 321979Haymarket Station  EdinburghScotlandRedevelopment of station - may not be involved
Item 26 of 32Late 1970sHousing, Cheyne StreetStockbridge EdinburghScotland 
Item 27 of 321981The Mercat shopping developmentKirkcaldy Fife Probably not involved in this job
Item 28 of 32Before 1981Johnson & Johnson (USA) FactoryLivingston West LothianScotland 
Item 29 of 32Before 1981Office development for Bovis  EdinburghScotlandMay hav been involved depending on date
Item 30 of 32Before 1981Office development for Livingston Development CorporationLivingston West LothianScotland 
Item 31 of 321984Beechmount HouseMurrayfield EdinburghScotlandAdaptation of Beechwood House as part of Murrayfield Independent Hospital
Item 32 of 321984Murrayfield Independent HospitalMurrayfield EdinburghScotlandNew low-rise buildings


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
Item 1 of 7Bailey, Rebecca M1996Scottish architects' papers: a source book Edinburgh: The Rutland Pressp128
Item 2 of 7Glendinning, Miles1997Rebuilding Scotland: The Postwar Vision, 1945-75  Tuckwell Press Ltdp17-18, p29, p180-1 Queens College, Dundee
p34, 54 Livingston
Item 3 of 7Glendinning, Miles2008Modern architect: the life and times of Robert Matthew RIBA Publishingp176,194,235,238,288,442,485
Item 4 of 7RIBA1964The RIBA Kalendar 1963-64   
Item 5 of 7RIBA1979Directory of members   
Item 6 of 7RIBA1979RIBA Directory of Practices 1979   
Item 7 of 7Willis, Peter1977New architecture in Scotland  p44-5 University of Edinburgh, King's Buildings
p92-5 Ninewells Hospital

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 1RIAS Quarterly2013issue 14, SummerRoyal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS)Obituary

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 1Courtesy of James LatimerInterview of James Latimer by Jessica Taylor, 5 March 2009