Obituary: Professor Charles Hugh Alexander MacCallum, architect and teacher

Charles MacCallum: Teacher who built fine buildings and warm personal relationships. Picture: Contributed
Charles MacCallum: Teacher who built fine buildings and warm personal relationships. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 24 June, 1935, in Glasgow. Died: 15 September, 2013, in Oxford, aged 78

An internationally known architect who never forgot his Scottish roots, a keen gardener, watercolourist and family man, Professor Charles MacCallum will perhaps be best remembered as a dedicated teacher who could “grow people” every bit as impressively as he could grow figs and flowers.

An erudite scholar who was known for answering questions with the full encyclopaedic answer and not the abridged version, Prof MacCallum was the head of the Mackintosh School of Architecture at Glasgow School of Art from 1994-2000.

He was also a practising architect who worked for the Glasgow firm Gillespie, Kidd and Coia for ten years in its heyday from 1957 and had a hand in many of its iconic buildings, a number of them built for the Roman Catholic Church.

A lifelong Francophile, he married Frenchwoman Andree Tonnard, whom he met as a young student in Glasgow in the early 1960s. He was particularly proud to leave a mark on his beloved city of Paris in the shape of the new Scots Kirk in that city. Opened in 2002, it showcases elegant design features such as a Pictish cross by Jacqueline Stieger which is visible from the street.

He was also awarded the great distinction of a silver medal by the Academie d’Architecture in Paris in 2003 and he helped organise a bicentennial exhibition in Paris on the work of the great French architect Louis Visconti.

Prof MacCallum was an internationally recognised expert on the work of Visconti and wrote a paper on the design symbolism of the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte, hewed from green granite and red quartz, which stands at Les Invalides.

Coincidentally one of his two daughters married a direct descendant of Visconti and moved to Paris, giving him another reason to delight in visiting the city.

Prof MacCallum was educated at Hutchesons’ Grammar School in Glasgow and then the Mackintosh School of Architecture. After his stint at Gillespie, Kidd and Coia, he won a fellowship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, from which he graduated with a Master’s degree in City Planning in 1969.

He then opened his own architectural firm in Oxford before being recruited by his lifelong friend and colleague Andy MacMillan as one of a “flying circus” of architects who flew in and out of Dublin in the early 1970s to teach at a revitalised school of architecture in University College, Dublin, after a “revolution” by the students, who wanted a more modern approach.

For a decade from 1985 to 1994, he returned to practise in Oxford, combining this with a post as Professor of Architectural Design at the University of Wales in Cardiff, before returning to Glasgow to take up the post as head of school.

This post was a particular joy given his love of Scotland, and during his time at the school he was credited with bringing increased academic rigour to the hands-on building tradition of the Mackintosh School.

Architect Grace Choi remembers with gratitude his input into her Masters degree, for which she won a prize. “He had a very gentle manner and he was very respectful and courteous, but he was also very persistent and he would force questions out of me that I never had in my mind at the beginning of the session,” she says.

The current head, Professor Christopher Platt, recalls: “Charlie was a great support to me when I returned to Scotland and began teaching part time at the Mackintosh School. He was kind, good-humoured, knowledgeable and approachable.

“He wore his professional status lightly.”

After retiring from full-time teaching, Prof McCallum and his family returned to Oxford, where he continued to work, spending time reading and writing in the Bodleian library, and assisting with the Franco British Union of Architects scholarship exchange programme for French and British architects.

His work in Oxford over the years included student housing, college libraries and private residences. Latterly, he successfully renovated and redesigned daughter Sophie’s Oxford home and garden behind its 1920s façade, creating a bright and stylish living space, and leaving a legacy of paintings on the walls and plants in the garden.

Teaching remained a huge part of his life right up until his death, and many former students and colleagues have written to express their sorrow at his passing.

Daughter Sophie said many Scottish friends were among those expressing sorrow at the loss of Prof MacCallum.

“They all emphasise his humanity, his humour; his considerate way of giving insightful feedback to students without being overly negative; his genuine interest in other people; his professionalism and his integrity. Integrity was exceptionally important to my father – both in his professional and his personal life.”

Prof MacCallum is survived by Andree, daughters Sophie and Joelle, and five grandchildren.