Emil Scherrer - an appreciation


Born: 10 April, 1911, in Manchester. Died: 26 May, 2006, in Edinburgh, aged 95.

EMIL Scherrer was an architect who not only co-founded and built up the successful practice of Scherrer and Hicks in London and Manchester but also maintained an ongoing involvement in architectural education in the critical post-war years.

Born of a Swiss father and English mother, he was educated at Manchester Grammar School. In 1927, he commenced his architectural training at the University of Manchester School of Architecture, graduating in 1934, following extensive study tours throughout Europe. Post-graduate studies followed, resulting in his gaining an MA with distinction and an RIBA Silver Medal for his study of Spanish 16th-century architecture. He also found time to enter for, and win, the prestigious Arthur Cates Prize for measured drawings coupled with research, awarded in 1936.

He further added to his academic achievements by gaining a Godwin and Wimperis Bursary for study in the United States in 1950.

In 1933, Emil was elected to the Royal Institute of British Architects, remaining a member for 73 years, first as an associate and later as a Fellow.

In 1937, he moved to London to take up a post as lecturer in architecture at the Regent Street Polytechnic, where he rose to become superintendent of courses from 1943-47.

It was with his move to London that he was able to develop his lifelong interest in the fine arts and antiques, particularly antique silver, furniture and pictures. Being located in the centre of the city, he also became a regular visitor to museums and art galleries and an ardent theatre-goer.

As the war ended, Emil was given the opportunity to act as architect for the first petro-chemical plant to be built in the UK. This proved to be a considerable challenge, not least because of the desperate shortage of building materials. He quickly found himself back in Manchester and faced with the daunting task of manufacturing his own concrete blocks on site, in order to get the plant completed on time. At the same time Kenneth Hicks, the head of the Brixton School of Buildings, was commissioning the redevelopment of the site of Croydon Airport to provide local authority housing. It seemed sensible to combine their efforts and thus it was that they went into partnership, to form Scherrer and Hicks.

After overcoming the problems which bedevilled the building industry in the years immediately after the war, the practice slowly established its reputation and was able to open offices in Cavendish Square in London and, later, in King Street in Manchester. Their range of work rapidly expanded and, while the initial commissions led to extensive work from the growing petro-chemical industry and public housing, the practice's portfolios soon included schools in London and Yorkshire (winning an RIBA Bronze Medal in 1959 for the design of Rhodesway Secondary School in Bradford). In addition, laboratories, administration and welfare buildings were required for the flourishing chemical and pharmaceutical industries, including research laboratories in Paisley for CIBA Geigy.

Emil was later appointed as architect for the 20-storey Faculty of Mathematics at his alma mater, which opened in 1968 to form a focal point in Manchester University's post-war redevelopment. Later, he was also appointed to design the university's arts library extension.

The practice was also responsible for commercial work and water-board projects in the London area, for sheltered housing schemes and for several major hospital developments in Newcastle and Lancashire.

Throughout the post-war years and until the founding partners retired from practice in 1972, Emil maintained close links with the academic world of architecture. He was an RIBA external examiner for Manchester University and Newcastle University (prior to 1963 Kings College, Durham). He was a visiting lecturer in architecture at the University of Toronto for the year 1952-53 and served on RIBA prize juries and their prizes and scholarships committee for many years. He was a member and sometime vice-chairman of the Ancient Monuments Society and of the International Building Study Group.

He was also a Freeman of the City of London and a member of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers for over 50 years.

In retirement, he maintained his interest in the development of his profession, in particular as it affected his old practice, which, to his great satisfaction, flourishes still, some 60 years after it was founded.

However, his long and happy retirement of over 30 years mainly enabled Emil to develop his abiding love of travel worldwide. He delighted in revisiting the sites of his architectural studies and elsewhere to widen his knowledge of historical architecture and its associated arts. He particularly enjoyed returning to Spain which he regarded as his second home.

After initially retiring to the Lake District, he moved to Edinburgh and, when not travelling, enjoyed living in the capital.

He was not so keen on an Edinburgh winter and thus it was that, even in his later years, he looked forward to regular visits to Switzerland and Spain. Here he was especially fortunate in being able to share his travels with his wife, Margaret, who survives him.

Emil Scherrer maintained to the last an enviable zest for life which he lived to the full and which was a constant source of admiration to all who knew him.