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Basic Biographical Details

Name: Richard Seifert
Designation:  
Born: 25 November 1910
Died: 26 October 2001
Bio Notes: Richard Seifert was born Rubin Seifert, one of the ten children of a cinema manager. He won a scholarship and studied architecture at the Bartlett School from 1927. He graduated in 1933 and, after a brief apprenticeship as a trainee surveyor and architectural assistant, set up in practice on his own, working on small scale speculative housing of traditional appearance in north London for fixed fees.

He first attracted professional attention in 1939 when he won second prize in a competition for the design of a façade for the recently established Building Centre in Store Street, off Tottenham Court Road.

That same year,1939, he enlisted in the Royal Engineers and was posted to India and Burma where he was attached to the 14th Army, reaching Calcutta the night that Japanese mortar fire first hit the city. He learned a great deal from the Army and it gave him a confidence that never left him. From then on he was always Colonel Richard Seifert.

In 1946 he settled in north-west London with his wife, Josephine Harding, whom he married in 1939, in a modest semi-detached house which he extended by purchasing adjacent properties and in due course built a swimming pool. At home he happily did his drawings with his children playing at his feet. He commenced practice with two others in 1947.

Seifert had a great appetite for work, leaving for the office at 6.30 and arriving before anyone else. He dictated letters in the morning followed by meetings with clients and partners, but slipped out through his private door to watch his staff at work. There were more business discussions in the afternoon and site visits which he preferred to do alone and then a return to the office for more discussions, telephone calls and letter signing at 6.30pm. He was very keen on construction and kept a close eye on engineers and quantity surveyors, determined to build efficiently. He also made site visits on Saturdays to inspect the week’s work.

Centre Point, built 1961, is probably Seifert’s best known building and probably the one about which there was most controversy. It was built at a time when public feeling over the damage inflicted on British cities by speculative developments was strongest. However it is now a listed building and other Seifert designs are among London’s most prominent landmarks. Both Centre Point and another prominent Seifert building, the NatWest Tower are important structurally. Centre Point was built on a tight site with no scaffolding, all the parts being pre-fabricated and lifted into place by crane. The NatWest Tower, shaped in plan like the bank’s logo is interesting because the concrete mullions do not descend all the way to the ground but are supported on diagonal fingers. Though it suffered bomb damage, it is still structurally sound. Another technical innovation used by Seifert was the mix of white cement into concrete which resembles marble in the right light.

Two other striking buildings by Seifert date from the early 1960s, Tolworth House, on the Kingston bypass, possibly influenced by Oscar Niemeyer and the circular Space House off Kingsway.

Seifert was an expert in plot ratios and bomb damage grants and was able to secure planning permissions more lucrative than clients had anticipated. There were fewer planning regulations and controls in the 1950s and 1960s and Seifert, an expert in planning law, was largely able to get his own way. Eventually he built more than 500 office blocks. From the beginning of the practice in 1947 with two others in a single room, it grew to 200 staff in 1966 and 300 in the 1970s.

He was quick to exploit the hotel boom that came with the Wilson Government’s offer of grants of 1,000 per new bedroom. His first commission was the Royal Garden Hotel next to Kensington Palace and then the Britannia Hotel in Grosvenor Square with others in Knightsbridge, Shepherd’s Bush and Putney. He also involved at the beginning of the construction of private hospitals in the 1970s and built to a high specification following American standards, one example being the Princess Grace Hospital near Euston Road.

He went on to design numerous high-rise blocks in London, Birmingham and Glasgow. However he had some doubts about the effect of high-rise living on families and admitted just after the completion of his four 21-storey blocks in Surrey Lane, Wandsworth some qualms about the ‘social and human effect’ of these types of dwelling.

Outside the capital, Seifert undertook a range of projects which changed the face of several cities, such as Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Watford. He designed the hotel and conference centre at Wembley along with a vast multi-storey car park with separate ramps for each level. His hotels included the Metropoles in Brighton and Birmingham.

As regards the design of his buildings, the most interesting aspect is the way in which he used large volumes. Some of his most striking schemes were drawn up from his sketches by Fred Gill who would work overnight to produce striking artist’s impressions for the benefit of clients, an example being the large hotel in Cromwell Road which was initially modelled on the tailplane of a Bristol Britannia aircraft with sweeping balconies. The end product did not meet this standard. He drew plans for what was to be the world’s tallest building, a diamond shaped tower in Melbourne, but the project was not realised.

Seifert died on 26 October 2001, survived by his wife and three sons.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this :
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 1EnglandBusiness1960s  

RIBA

RIBA Proposals

This proposed the following individuals for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 2William Higgins Henry2 February 1966For Fellowship
Item 2 of 2Horace George Marsh10 March 1956for Fellowship

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 151960sAilsa superstore  GlasgowScotland 
Item 2 of 151966Multi-storey Car Park, Waterloo Street and Douglas Street, Anderston CrossAnderston GlasgowScotland 
Item 3 of 151967Anderston Cross Commercial CentreAnderston GlasgowScotland 
Item 4 of 151968Anderston Cross Housing SchemeAnderston Cross GlasgowScotland 
Item 5 of 15Late 1960sCharing Cross Railway Station  GlasgowScotland 
Item 6 of 151970249 West George Street  GlasgowScotland 
Item 7 of 151970Norwich Union Life Assurance Building  EdinburghScotland 
Item 8 of 151971A & G Thomson's Warehouse  GlasgowScotlandRebuilding as offices.
Item 9 of 151971Charing Cross Redevelopment, Phase ICharing Cross GlasgowScotlandPhase I
Item 10 of 151972Hamilton House  GlasgowScotland 
Item 11 of 151972Hume House  GlasgowScotland 
Item 12 of 151972The Bowring Building  GlasgowScotland 
Item 13 of 151973Office development, George Street  EdinburghScotland 
Item 14 of 15Before 1975District shopping centre and housing  DundeeScotland 
Item 15 of 15c. 1976Sun Life Insurance Office  GlasgowScotlandTower added

References

Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this :
 Author(s)DateTitlePartPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 1Glendinning, M, MacInnes, R and MacKechnie, A1996A History of Scottish Architecture  p594

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this :
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 1The Guardian29 October 2001  Obituary

Images

© All rights reserved. © National Portrait Gallery, London 

© All rights reserved. © National Portrait Gallery, London