Basic Biographical Details
|Guy Barrie Oddie
|1 January 1922
|29 June 2011
|Guy Barrie Oddie was born on 1 January 1922 ‘on the Tyne, about seven miles west of Newcastle’. His ability to draw caused him to be picked out by his school as a candidate for a scholarship from the Architects’ Registration Council to study Architecture. He was duly sent to London for an interview, at the end of which he was advised that he was free to go downstairs and join the queue to visit an exhibition of Cottman watercolours. ‘And then,’ he recalled, ‘I found myself in front of my hero, no less a person than Sir Edwin Lutyens.’ He was not to complete his higher-school certificate as in September 1939, following the outbreak of the Second World War, he was invited by W B Edwards, reader (and later Professor) at Newcastle’s King’s College in the University of Durham (now the University of Newcastle), to come up to the university immediately rather than completing his final year of schooling. ‘And that’s how it was that I arrived there at the age of seventeen and immediately joined the boat club and learned how to laugh at scatological jokes, and how to get drunk, and all the other things that disappointed my mother.’ He clearly studied a fair amount as well, as he graduated BA with first-class honours in 1944. He remained at the same College as a studio assistant for a further year while completing a diploma in town planning.
In the second half of 1945 he spent a few months in Glasgow Corporation Housing Department; this was a last-resort employment option for him, as the continuing war meant that no positions were available in private practices. He was exempted from the RIBA final exams and was elected ARIBA in 1946, his proposers being W B Edwards, who described Oddie as ‘an excellent student’, A C Bunch and R Norman MacKellar. In late 1945 or early 1946 he was happy to transfer from Glasgow to Coventry Corporation City Architect’s Department to work under Donald Gibson, whom he remembered as ‘a remarkable man in every way [who] seized the opportunity Hitler’s bombing gave to set up a new city plan’. Gibson’s approach, however, jarred with Oddie; the City Architect asked him to design unified facades for entire streets, whereas Oddie was of the opinion that the best town architecture was more varied, holding up Warwick’s main street as an example. Sensing Oddie’s frustration at the lack of scope of his role, Gibson found him a job at the Building Research Station (BRS) near Watford, Hertfordshire. ‘And then,’ he recalled, ‘I really took off; that was where I began to learn ... I found myself rubbing shoulders with some of the most notable architects and personalities in the modern architectural movement, including two people, both of whom had the most beautiful speaking voices I’ve ever heard’ – Richard Llewelyn Davies and Lionel Esher. He shared an office with Anthony Pott, ‘who was very much top drawer’, and their secretary was amused at the unlikely combination of northern lad and upper-class gent. At that time Stirrat Johnson-Marshall was Deputy County Architect for Hertfordshire; Oddie formed a firm friendship with him, having been introduced as a result of Gibson’s collaboration with his brother Percy Johnson-Marshall. The young architect paid a number of social visits to Stirrat’s home in Welwyn, and would later affirm that ‘from that time, Anthony Pott and Stirrat Johnson-Marshall were the two outstanding people in my life’.
Eventually, seeking a better wage, he left the BRS and spent a couple of years teaching at the Birmingham School of Architecture. His unconventional methods were not welcomed by the Head of the School, Douglas Jones, but Oddie found them ‘very productive’. There, he met and married his landlady, Mrs Mabel Smith, who was 20 years his senior and had two daughters, Barbara (later Mrs Harrison) and Margaret (later Mrs Vella, d.2011). It was to be a very happy marriage.
At some point in the early 1950s, he obtained a job in the Ministry of Education through Stirrat Johnson-Marshall, by then the Ministry’s chief architect. The last building ‘of any consequence’ that Oddie designed there was a halls of residence at Reading University, but he left before construction of this project. Johnson-Marshall went to Edinburgh in 1956 to enter into partnership with Robert Matthew, and Oddie moved on soon afterwards, to a post in the University Grants Committee (UGC). He found his time there frustrating, as the advice that he and his colleagues gave – for instance, stating that students in provincial universities preferred converted accommodation with a variety of rooms, rather than purpose-built halls of residence – was not heeded.
He moved to Paris in 1963 to take up a job with the Organisation for European Co-operation and Development (OECD), where he became the Senior Advisor to the Programme on Educational Building. Able to walk to work from his pleasant flat in the prestigious 16th arrondissement, he enjoyed Parisian life; but the draw of the home he had built for himself and his wife in Epsom eventually proved too great, and Oddie returned to Britain to live there and to work at the Ministry of Education for a time. He was ever to regret failing to take up an opportunity to stay in Paris and work on a programme promoting the social welfare of people in developing countries.
Oddie was elected FRIAS in 1968. Around that time he was sent to Peru (probably by the United Nations) to advise on how school building could be improved in a northern area of the country that had recently been stricken by an earthquake. He recalled one occasion while he was there, when his colleague (a Frenchman) and the latter’s wife went away for a weekend, leaving him alone in Lima. He was due to take a government car to the area of concern, but was alarmed when the vehicle that arrived already contained another passenger and a pile of newspapers, and so he refused to make the journey. Instead, he explored Lima and found the area known as the Barracas, a shanty town that had developed into a solid community. He was fascinated to observe how early in the process of creating a shelter for themselves the people would begin to decorate it. He also held a fascination and admiration for Islamic architecture, citing in particular Istanbul’s Mosque of Suleymaniye the Great and Moorish buildings in Seville and Lisbon.
In 1969 he followed Johnson-Marshall to the Scottish capital and obtained a post as Robert Adam Professor of Architecture at Edinburgh University, where Matthew was then a fellow Professor and Head of the School of Architecture. Unable to find pleasing and affordable permanent accommodation, Oddie and his wife temporarily lived in the former vice-chancellor’s house at Pollock Halls. It so happened that a plot of land in nearby Duddingston belonged to Matthew himself; and within a day of Oddie’s discovery of this fact, Matthew had sold him the land so that he could build his own house on it – a house he would later consider very ugly.
After 14 years of professorship, Oddie took early retirement. Thereafter he took to writing light verse, as well as penning a personal memoir. His other interests included debate and a passion for river fishing. He had a stroke sometime before 2009 (though this was not fully diagnosed), which posed physical challenges but did nothing to dampen his spirit or intellect.
He died on 29 June 2011. He remained in the house he built to accommodate Mabel's decline in health on half the original property in Duddingston which he had purchased. When he died, he was survived by his step daughter, Barbara Harrison, and his two step grand daughters Jane Harrison and Ann Harrison who sold the family home. He is also survived by step great grandchildren, Matthew and Emma Harrison-Trainor and Kathryn and Andrew Hrycusko. His youngest step-grandchild, Andrew Hrycusko, is hoping to follow Guy's steps by studying architecture at university.
Private and Business Addresses
|The following private or business addresses are associated with this :
|The Causeway, Edinburgh, Scotland
|10, Wallace Terrace, Ryton-on-Tyre, County Durham, England
|City Architect's Department/1a, Warwick Row, Coventry, England
|Late 1940s or early 1950s
|while teaching at Birmingham University
|16th arrondissement, Paris, France
|while working for the OECD
|while teaching at Edinburgh University
* earliest date known from documented sources.
Employment and Training
|The following periodicals contain references to this :
|Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS)
|The following archives hold material relating to this :
|Source Catalogue No.
|Courtesy of Guy Oddie
|Interview of Guy Oddie by Jessica Taylor and Miles Glendinning, 13 January 2009
|RIAS, Rutland Square
|Records of membership
|RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert Museum
|RIBA Nomination Papers
|A no8824 (Combined Box 217)