Basic Biographical Details

Name: Law & Dunbar-Nasmith
Born: 1 April 1957
Died: Before 1989
Bio Notes: Graham Couper Law was born on 28 September 1923, the son of William Couper and his wife Eliza, and lived in Rhu during his early years. He was educated at Glasgow Academy, Ardvreck Preparatory and Merchiston Castle Schools. He studied for the degree of MA at King's College, Cambridge from 1940-41 and from 1947-50, his studies having been interrupted by the Second World War. During the War he served with the Royal Engineers. He was awarded a College Exhibition and distinction in his thesis and was admitted ARIBA in 1951. He worked as an assistant with Adams Holden & Pearson in London and then moved to Glasgow to the practice of Burnet & Boston. He was with the Weir Housing Corporation in Coatbridge for a spell before joining Robert Matthew's newly established private practice in Edinburgh in November 1954. One of his first projects there was Kincardine Power Station.

Earlier the same year, in April, another young architect, James Duncan Dunbar-Nasmith, had joined the practice. Dunbar-Nasmith was born on 15 March 1927 in the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, where his father, Admiral Sir Martin Dunbar-Nasmith, was Captain. His mother came from Morayshire, and the family retained a home there, while moving every two years according to his father’s postings which included London and Sri Lanka. His elder brother, David Arthur Dunbar-Nasmith, would follow their father into the Navy. Educated entirely in England, James Dunbar-Nasmith attended Winchester College. On leaving school he served in the army for three years before going up to Cambridge to study architecture. It was there that he first met Law. Having graduated BA, he went on to study for two years at the School of Architecture, Edinburgh College of Art. After passing the qualifying exam, he sought to stay in Edinburgh in order to be near his aging parents, who had by then settled back in Morayshire. He worked for six months in the office of Leslie Grahame Thomson, before he was able to secure a position in Matthew’s burgeoning firm.

The young architects developed strong friendships and Dunbar-Nasmith recalls them and their colleagues Tom Spaven, Margaret Little and Margaret Brown (later Richards) thinking, in youthful fashion, that they were ‘going to create a new world through architecture and change people’s lives’ – notions which he would later dismiss as ‘rubbish’.

Dunbar-Nasmith was admitted ARIBA in 1957, and he and Law left the Matthew firm (by then Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall & Partners – RMJM) to go into partnership on 1 April that year, with an office at 54 Frederick Street, Edinburgh. Their first job in independent practice, begun in the evenings while they were working out their notice period with Matthew, was a pair of farm cottages at Cublington in Buckinghamshire for Dunbar-Nasmith’s schoolfriend Leopold David de Rothschild (‘Leo’), who would go on to commission a number of other buildings from the firm. Law’s previous experience working for the Weir Housing Corporation was instrumental in securing for the new partnership a second project – a contract for 45 houses on the Ochlochy estate in Dunblane. They were given a completely free hand in the design, for which Law was principally responsible. Dunbar-Nasmith recalls that the publicity for this speculative project of elegant single-storey, two-storey and terraced houses ‘made our name’. Further commissions followed, including various alterations to country houses; a new country house in Hampshire for Leo de Rothschild, on seeing which the Queen would later decide to commission the practice to build cottages on the Balmoral Estate; and a series of schools in a patent system of construction. The practice expanded over the years and a branch office was opened in Forres in 1975.

It is for its theatre projects that the practice is perhaps best known. It first altered the original Pitlochry Theatre (previously only a tent), and then went on to design the new Eden Court Theatre in Inverness in the mid-1970s, in preparation for which Nasmith toured German opera houses and Law toured those in America and Finland. This was followed by the new Pitlochry Festival Theatre at the end of the decade. Both designs reintroduced the idea of operatic excitement to the auditorium and were important landmarks in post-war theatre design.

By that time, most of the architectural work (including all the designs for the theatres) was being carried out by Law, as Dunbar-Nasmith had become increasingly involved with professional bodies and in education. He taught at the Edinburgh College of Art from around 1960, and subsequently joined the RIAS Education Committee, the RIBA Board of Education (of which he was Chairman), the RIBA Visiting Boards, the Commonwealth Board of Architecture Education, the Commonwealth Visiting Boards and the Ancient Monuments Board (which he chaired for a year). He was appointed Chairman of the Joint Building Group in Scotland in 1966, was head of the Edinburgh Architectural Association in the 1960s, and was involved in the Edinburgh New Town survey, as well as serving for some time on the Royal Commission and as a trustee of the Theatres Trust. In 1979 he was appointed Professor of Edinburgh University and Head of the Department of Architecture at Heriot-Watt College, following in the footsteps of Robert Matthew. Later, in 1995, he would become Chairman of the Scottish Civic Trust.

Law also took an active interest in matters relating to the profession and served on the Council of the Edinburgh Architectural Association, the RIAS Council and the ARCUK Council and on its professional purposes committee. He undertook some tutorial work at Edinburgh College of Art in the early 1960s, and was elected FRIAS in 1963. From 1980 he was an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy, to which he was a regular contributor of both painting and architecture and from 1913 an Academician. He was the first chairman from 1977 to 1981 of an organisation dedicated to providing studio accommodation for artists and craftsmen, Workshops and Artists' Studio Provision (WASPS).

In addition to a large portion of the practice’s architectural work, Law was responsible for the design of a number of exhibitions for the Edinburgh Festival, some of which were carried out in association with Richard Buckle. Among others were the Jacob Epstein, Barbara Hepworth, ‘Indian Art and Dance’, and ‘Treasures from Scottish Country Houses’ exhibitions. He was very clear-minded and applied this to any problems that arose during a job and ensured that the first concept of a design was not lost until the building was completed. As a person Law was very modest despite his prodigious talents, and hated publicity. He delighted in the company of close friends and his large family, to whom he was devoted.

The practice first became involved in conservation architecture through a commission to alter a castle near Lake Menteith, for which they secured a Historic Buildings Council grant. It was to develop a strong reputation for work in this field.

Dunbar-Nasmith cites the choice of materials as a key consideration in his work, particularly from the perspective of the way people come into contact with the fabric of buildings. ‘I cannot see concrete as a suitable material to lean against,’ he confesses; and he pays particular attention to the creation of elements such as door handles and balustrades that are ‘nice to feel’, stating: ‘The first job of a building is to give pleasure; unless people love their buildings, they won’t look after them.’ On the subject of style, despite the heady atmosphere of modernism that infused his early years, in later life he was of the opinion that ‘there’s just good architecture and bad architecture. Style is completely irrelevant.’

Dunbar-Nasmith was made a CBE in 1976. In 1983, the practice made moves to expand into Germany by acquiring a practice in Wiesbaden; this was to be closed after five or six years. Law retired in 1984 and Dunbar-Nasmith, who had shared a partners' desk with him since the beginning, continued the practice.

Law died from cancer on 13 September 1996, survived by his wife Isobel Evelyn Alexander Drysdale and their four children and ten grandchildren.

Dunbar-Nasmith was knighted in 1996. He retired c.2001.

The practice remained at 16 Dublin Street, having moved there c.1967, and did not move again until early 2009.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this :
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 454, Frederick Street, Edinburgh, ScotlandBusiness19571967 
Item 2 of 416, Dublin Street, Edinburgh, ScotlandBusiness1967Early 2009 
Item 3 of 4130, High Street, Forres, Morayshire, ScotlandBusiness1975After 1981Branch office
Item 4 of 4St Leonard's Road, Forres, Morayshire, ScotlandBusiness1991 * Branch office

* earliest date known from documented sources.

Employment and Training

Employees or Pupils

The following individuals were employed or trained by this (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 9Robert Watt Young Dobie19571958  
Item 2 of 9Graham Couper Law1 April 1957After 1979Partner 
Item 3 of 9(Professor Sir) James Duncan Dunbar-Nasmith1 April 1957c. 2001Partner 
Item 4 of 9(Miss) Margaret McLaurin Little (Mrs McDiarmid)1959 * Architect 
Item 5 of 9Robert Watt Young Dobie19591963  
Item 6 of 9Jack Buchanan1970s Architect 
Item 7 of 9Maurice Batten1970s1980sArchitect 
Item 8 of 9Andrew P K Wright1978 Architect 
Item 9 of 9Andrew P K Wright19832001Partner 

* earliest date known from documented sources.

Buildings and Designs

This 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 511957Ochlochy Village HousingDunblane PerthshireScotlandper Builder p1152
Item 2 of 511957Pair of farm cottagesCublington BuckinghamshireEngland 
Item 3 of 511959Private houseRhu DunbartonshireScotland 
Item 4 of 511959Scottish Churches HouseDunblane PerthshireScotlandConversion
Item 5 of 511960s(?)BEA sales office  GlasgowScotland 
Item 6 of 511960s(?)Ferry terminalArdrossan AyrshireScotland 
Item 7 of 511960s(?)House for Leopold David de RothschildExbury HampshireEngland 
Item 8 of 511960sSt Mary's SchoolHaddington East LothianScotland 
Item 9 of 511960sSt Ninian's High SchoolKirkintilloch DunbartonshireScotlandExtension on CLASP system
Item 10 of 511960sVilla, Rhu Road LowerHelensburgh Dunbartonshire/ArgyllScotland 
Item 11 of 511960s(?)Wullie Muir Inn  EdinburghScotland 
Item 12 of 511960Dunbartonshire County Council OfficesDumbarton DunbartonshireScotlandPlaced second in the competition for redevelopment of central Dumbarton which included new County Offices.
Item 13 of 511960Kingsway Technical College  DundeeScotlandTwo blocks added - in conjunction with the SED
Item 14 of 511960Leuchie House  East LothianScotland 
Item 15 of 518 July 1960Dumbarton Central Area DevelopmentDumbarton DunbartonshireScotlandawarded 2nd prize in competition £900 per Builder p47
Item 16 of 511961Edinburgh Festival Society Exhibitions  EdinburghScotland 
Item 17 of 511962BEA ticket office  EdinburghScotland 
Item 18 of 511962Clermiston Inn  EdinburghScotland 
Item 19 of 511962Leuchie House, walled gardenNorth Berwick East LothianScotlandHouse in corner of walled garden. Extension 1964.
Item 20 of 511963Cramond Brig Cottages  EdinburghScotland 
Item 21 of 511963St Crispin's Special SchoolWest Mains Edinburgh, MidlothianScotland 
Item 22 of 511966St Columba's Ecumenical Church, CraigshillLivingston West LothianScotland 
Item 23 of 511968Kingsinch SchoolInch EdinburghScotland 
Item 24 of 51c. 196Pitlochry Festival TheatrePitlochry PerthshireScotlandAlterations to temporary tent structure
Item 25 of 511970sCLASP school buildings for SED and NBA   Scotland 
Item 26 of 511970sConservation projects  EdinburghScotlandConservation
Item 27 of 511970sDervaig Arts TheatreDervaigMullArgyllScotland 
Item 28 of 511970sLoretto School, theatreMusselburgh MidlothianScotland 
Item 29 of 511970sOffices for Clydesdale Bank  EdinburghScotlandReconstruction
Item 30 of 511970s(?)Television studios for STV  EdinburghScotland 
Item 31 of 511970sTV transmitter stations for ITA   Scotland 
Item 32 of 511970Glen Tanar House (new)Glen Tanar AberdeenshireScotland 
Item 33 of 511970Milnwood Housing EstateBellshill LanarkshireScotlandPhase I
Item 34 of 511971St Margaret's School  EdinburghScotland2 storey addition
Item 35 of 511973Bishop's PalaceInverness Inverness-shireScotlandTheatre
Item 36 of 511973Eden Court TheatreInverness Inverness-shireScotland 
Item 37 of 51Before 1975Willie Muir Inn  EdinburghScotland 
Item 38 of 511976St Machar's CathedralOld Aberdeen AberdeenScotlandRestoration with fabric fully conserved
Item 39 of 511978Darnaway Castle  MorayshireScotlandRestoration.
Item 40 of 511978Gordonstoun, house and lodge  MorayshireScotlandRepairs
Item 41 of 511978Logie HouseForres MorayshireScotlandRepairs and extension
Item 42 of 511979Pitlochry Festival TheatrePitlochry PerthshireScotlandNew permanent building
Item 43 of 511980Birkhall  AberdeenshireScotlandAlterations and additions
Item 44 of 511980Gordonstoun, house and lodge  MorayshireScotlandRepairs
Item 45 of 511983Fort George PrisonFort George Inverness-shireScotlandRestoration
Item 46 of 51198620 SSHA housesFindhorn MorayshireScotlandCompletion of scheme
Item 47 of 511987Milton Brodie House  MorayshireScotlandAlterations
Item 48 of 51198840-44 Elm Row  EdinburghScotland 
Item 49 of 511995Dollar Academy, Iona BuildingDollar ClackmannanshireScotland 
Item 50 of 511995Dollar Academy, Younger BuildingDollar ClackmannanshireScotland 
Item 51 of 512000Birmingham Hippodrome  BirminghamEnglandComplete refurbishment, including creation of second theatre space and construction of new facade


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this :
Item 1 of 4Bailey, Rebecca M1996Scottish architects' papers: a source book Edinburgh: The Rutland Pressp129
Item 2 of 4Glendinning, Miles2008Modern architect: the life and times of Robert Matthew RIBA Publishingp163
Item 3 of 4RIBA1981Directory of Practices 1981   
Item 4 of 4Willis, Peter1977New architecture in Scotland  p80-3 Eden Court Theatre

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this :
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 1Courtesy of James Dunbar-NasmithInterview of James Dunbar-Nasmith by Jessica Taylor, 15 April 2009