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Basic Biographical Details

Name: Percy Edwin Alan Johnson-Marshall
Designation: Architect, Town Planner
Born: 21 January 1915
Died: 14 July 1993
Bio Notes: Percy Edwin Alan Johnson-Marshall was born on 21 January 1915 in Ajmer, India, the younger son of Felix William Norman Johnson-Marshall, a civil servant of Scottish descent who administered the salt trade, and his wife Kate Jane Little, and brother of Stirrat Andrew William Johnson-Marshall. His early childhood was spent in various areas of India as well as in Baghdad, where the family was taken because of his parents’ work. He subsequently attended Queen Elizabeth School, Kirby Lonsdale, Cumbria.

From 1930-35 Johnson-Marshall studied architecture at the University of Liverpool, at that time under the influential directorship of Lionel Budden, with Charles Reilly overseeing the architecture programme and Patrick Abercromby that of town planning. In 1933 he made a study tour in Belgium, Holland, Germany, Denmark and Sweden. He gained the RIBA Distinction in town planning and was an Associate Member of the Town Planning Institute. He was elected ARIBA in 1938, proposed by Lionel Budden, Ernest Marshall and Edward R T Cole.

After graduating from Liverpool, he took a post as architectural assistant with Ivor Davies, moving the following year to an assistant post with Middlesex County Council. From 1937-38 he worked for Willesden Borough Council and subsequently for the Ministry of Town and Country Planning and various local authorities, including Coventry (where he became the protégé of Donald Gibson) and on the Hertfordshire schools programme. This was a time of personal tragedy for him, as he lost his first wife and their unborn child during the Blitz. He was mobilised into the Royal Engineers, and spent most of the war in India, reaching the rank of major. It was in Darjeeling that he met his second wife, April, an Anglo-Argentinian who was serving as a nurse. They married in Calcutta.

In 1949 Johnson-Marshall was brought in by Arthur Ling and Robert Matthew to head the Reconstruction group at the London County Council (LCC), one of the Planning Division’s four new groups, with the remit of planning the rebuilding of bombed areas. By 1951 Johnson-Marshall had risen to take charge of the programme of planning-led Comprehensive Development Areas. The best-known of these are Lansbury and St Anne’s, Stepney/Poplar, the South Bank and the Barbican, and Tower Hill.

Johnson-Marshall was a committed communist and opposed the grand wartime Modernist tabula rasa plans from a Socialist Realist perspective, which combined grand boulevards and landmark buildings with elements of ‘people’s vernacular’. With his communist convictions, Percy joined in the late 1940s/early 1950s heated debates of public versus private architecture/planning: in December 1949 he took part in a Third Programme radio debate against Frederick Gibberd, where he accused large private architectural practices of being ‘a great menace to good architecture’, and in 1952 was involved in organising a series of articles on the theme of Public Architecture, published in the Architect’s Journal and prepared by guest editors Robert Matthew, Donald Gibson, Stirrat Johnson-Marshall and Robert Gardner-Medwin. These articles also highlighted the growing tension between architects and planners. Johnson-Marshall was firmly in the pro-planning camp, and may have been partially motivated by sibling rivalry with his architect brother, Stirrat, which was exacerbated by the fact that their elderly mother had to live for 15 years in Percy’s house, despite his large family and relative poverty.

After an unsuccessful 1957 application to become chief architect-planner of Cumbernauld, Johnson-Marshall moved from London to Edinburgh in 1959 to take up the post of senior lecturer for planning at Robert Matthew’s new Edinburgh University architecture department and was awarded the Ford Foundation travel grant during the subsequent session. Although it soon became clear that Johnson-Marshall had little teaching experience, he brought a great deal of enthusiasm to the role and in 1960 he established a civic design diploma course. He also became temporary Director of Edinburgh University’s Housing Research Unit for four years from 1961, consultant planner for the Edinburgh University redevelopment from 1961/62, and stood in for Robert Matthew as head of department in 1962-4, during the latter’s RIBA presidency. Johnson-Marshall was also involved in the setting up of the new Edinburgh University Planning Research Unit (1963) and the Department of Urban Design and Regional Planning (1967). From the late 1960s he was Edinburgh University’s external examiner to Khartoum University. In 1965 Percy’s book ‘Rebuilding Cities’ was published, described by Robert Matthew as ‘Percy’s great work’.

As well as his university post, Johnson-Marshall also set up his own planning consultancy in 1960, Percy Johnson-Marshall & Associates, having formed an agreement with Robert Matthew who shut down the small planning arm of Robert Matthew Johnson-Marshall & Associates’ Edinburgh office and transferred the staff to Percy, along with a healthy dowry of existing projects. Together, Matthew and Johnson-Marshall were responsible for the Lothian Regional Plan, including Livingston New Town, as well as for the Grangemouth/Falkirk Plan and the Central Borders Plan. When the Johnson-Marshall family moved to Edinburgh in 1959, Matthew had also provided Percy, his wife, April, and their seven children with a large home (Bella Vista) in the picturesque Edinburgh suburb of Duddingston. This home was also used as the base for his practice, and Percy eventually bought it outright in 1967.

As the fifth planning consultant to Edinburgh University, he prepared an extensive development plan to enable the university to expand within the city. This was eventually halted by conservationists in the early 1970s, but not before the plans for Bristo Square had been carried out. By the 1970s Percy was engaged in Edinburgh conservation work. He was invited in 1972 to be a consultant on human settlements for the United Nations Conference on the Environment in Stockholm, and was involved in an ad hoc Habitat Committee of the Joint Standing Committee of Commonwealth Associations from 1974, first as deputy to Robert Matthew and then taking over as chairman after the latter’s death in 1975. In the latter year he was made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George. From this time he was also the Commonwealth Human Ecology Council’s ‘No. 1 professional’ until around 1989 when his health began to decline. He retired from Edinburgh University earlier, in 1985.

Johnson-Marshall lived at his Bella Vista home until his death on Wednesday 14 July 1993. He has been described by Arnold Hendry as a ‘slightly woolly headed, delightful person, very sociable, who spoke in chromatic chords and got on terribly well with everybody’. ‘He and his wife were marvellously kind to overseas students – you’d go over to Bella Vista for lunch on Sunday, all these people from different countries would troop in, and April would say, ‘Who are all these people, Percy?’ He’d reply, ‘They’re postgrads – I asked them for tea’ and she’d say, ‘You might have asked me!’, while in Maurice Lee’s opinion, Johnson-Marshall ‘had an unadulteratedly universal outlook, prepared to be friends with anybody, with no exclusion of race, colour or politics. For Percy, you didn’t have to be a communist to be his friend.’

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect, town planner:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 2North Square, Hampstead Garden Subarb, EnglandPrivateBefore 19581959 
Item 2 of 2Bella Vista/64, The Causeway, Duddingston, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivate/business19591993 

Employment and Training


The following individuals or organisations employed or trained this architect, town planner (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 6Middlesex County Council Architect's Department1926 Assistant 
Item 2 of 6Ivor Davies19351936Assistant 
Item 3 of 6Willesden Borough Council Architects Department19371938Assistant 
Item 4 of 6London County Council Town Planning Department (LCC Town Planning' Department)1940s1959Planning Officer 
Item 5 of 6Percy Johnson-Marshall & Associates1960 Partner 
Item 6 of 6Edinburgh University Housing Research Unit (HRU) / Architecture Research Unit (ARU)19611962 or 1964DirectorStood in as Director until he found a replacement for Eric Stevenson (Prof Charles Robertson)


RIBA Proposers

The following individuals proposed this architect, town planner for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 3Lionel Bailey Budden9 May 1938For Associateship
Item 2 of 3Edward Robinson Ferdinand Cole9 May 1938For Associateship
Item 3 of 3Ernest William Marshall9 May 1938For Associateship

RIBA Proposals

This architect, town planner proposed the following individuals for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 1Richard Thomas Bigwood16 July 1969For Fellowship

Buildings and Designs

This architect, town planner 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 21April 1957Hauptstadt Berlin competition (Percy Johnson-Marshall's entry)  BerlinGermanyReached the third round.
Item 2 of 211960sAdministrative Sector Plan  IslamabadPakistanProject was handled by a combination of Percy Johnson-Marshall's team in Edinburgh for strict planning matters, and Maurice Lee in the London RMJM office to oversee direct negotiations with the CDA and other architects
Item 3 of 211960sBathgate Town Centre CDABathgate West LothianScotland 
Item 4 of 211960sDarnick land use and traffic surveyMelrose RoxburghshireScotland 
Item 5 of 211960sDoxford Park, residential layout and house typesDoxford Park SunderlandEngland 
Item 6 of 211960sKelso land use and traffic surveyKelso RoxburghshireScotland 
Item 7 of 211960sKenton Bank development planKenton Bank Newcastle-upon-TyneEngland 
Item 8 of 211960sKilmarnock town centre plan, CDA, town expansion study and 20 year road network proposalKilmarnock AyrshireScotland 
Item 9 of 211960sSilksworth township centre planSilksworth SunderlandEngland 
Item 10 of 211960sSt Clement's area pilot report  OxfordEngland 
Item 11 of 211961Belfast Regional Plan  BelfastNorthern IrelandAs planning consultant to Robert Matthew
Item 12 of 211961University of Edinburgh, development plan  EdinburghScotland 
Item 13 of 211962University of Edinburgh, George Square Redevelopment  Edinburgh, MidlothianScotlandAmendment to earlier schemes.
Item 14 of 211972Kilmarnock Bus StationKilmarnock AyrshireScotland 
Item 15 of 211974Kilmarnock town centre plan, CDA, town expansion study and 20 year road network proposalKilmarnock AyrshireScotlandDevelopment in Foregate
Item 16 of 21Before 1975Ouston  County DurhamEngland 
Item 17 of 211980University of Edinburgh, George Square Redevelopment  Edinburgh, MidlothianScotlandAmendment to earlier schemes.
Item 18 of 211990Bonnington BondLeith EdinburghScotland3-storey vestibule to S block and projecting atria
Item 19 of 211991Nexen HouseAltens AberdeenScotland 
Item 20 of 211994Development, Mill Street between Coalgate and CandleriggsAlloa ClackmannanshireScotlandContinuation of development down Candleriggs - with Hendry & Legge
Item 21 of 21c. 1966Coleraine-Portrush-Portstewart Area Plan   Northern Ireland 


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect, town planner:
Item 1 of 6Glendinning, M, MacInnes, R and MacKechnie, A1996A History of Scottish Architecture  p582
Item 2 of 6Glendinning, Miles1997Rebuilding Scotland: The Postwar Vision, 1945-75  Tuckwell Press Ltdp33 Photograph of Edinburgh University CDA
Item 3 of 6Glendinning, Miles2008Modern architect: the life and times of Robert Matthew RIBA Publishing 
Item 4 of 6Miles Glendinning, Diane Watters, David Whitham Docomomo Scotland Leaflet  p226, p229 Edinburgh University redvelopment, George Square
Item 5 of 6Municipal Annual1964Scottish Municipal Annual1964-1965  
Item 6 of 6RIBA1970RIBA Directory 1970   

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect, town planner:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 8Builder17 July 1959  'News of the Week / Appointment and Travel Grant' p2
Item 2 of 8Builder5 August 1960  'Civic Design: A New Course at Edinburgh' p228
Item 3 of 8Builder27 October 1961  'Architectural Historians' Conference: Papers Submitted to the Edinburgh Meeting' p787 - Johnson-Marshall delivered a paper entitled 'The City of the 21st Century' at the SAH (UK) Conference in Edinburgh on 15-17 Sept 1961
Item 4 of 8Builder8 December 1961  'Department of Architecture, University of Edinburgh' p1091
Item 5 of 8Builder29 May 1964  p1110 - appointed to Chair of Urban Design & Regional Planning, University of Edinburgh
Item 6 of 8Builder31 July 1964  p225-227 - feature titled, 'Urban and Regional Planning: Teamwork and Integrated Research at Edinburgh'
Item 7 of 8RIAS NewsletterNovember 1993v4, no10 Death note
Item 8 of 8Scotsman17 July 1993  Obituary - probably Scotsman.

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect, town planner:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 2National Monuments Record of Scotland/NMRS, RCAHMSNMRS Library Obituary by Dr Eleanor Morris (cutting of unknown origin)
Item 2 of 2RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert MuseumRIBA Nomination PapersA no 6778 (Combined Box 159) 


© All rights reserved. © The Scotsman Publications Ltd.  Licensor www.scran.ac.uk 

© All rights reserved. © The Scotsman Publications Ltd. Licensor www.scran.ac.uk