Obituary: John Addison, civil engineer who was passionate about conservation

John Addison
John Addison
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John Douglas Addison, civil engineer. Born: 20 January 1948. Died 17 March 2019, 
aged 71.

John Addison, who has died aged 71, was a civil engineer known for his great contribution to the conservation of historic buildings in ­Scotland, Ireland and US – and who was never afraid to express his views.

John was a great and inspiring man with an artistic soul, a scientific mind, and also a very ­talented musician. He gave his time and immense knowledge generously to improve our environment. He was a very experienced civil engineer who specialised in structural design and analysis of ­buildings, bridges and civil engineering structures for 43 years since becoming qualified, with 38 of them in old buildings and ancient structures in the UK and Ireland.

He also worked independently or as a ‘support act’ to architects and surveyors. He built up such experience and interest in building history and philosophy that it influenced his decision to provide a “one-stop” service for such projects when it was appropriate.

John graduated with a first class honours degree in ­engineering science from the University of Aberdeen in 1970 with distinction in mathematics and structural design.

He became a member of the Institute of Civil Engineers in 1975 and recently retired from it. At the beginning of his career he worked with Taylor Woodrow Construction as a site engineer on the construction of Invergordon aluminium smelter and two new nuclear power ­stations.

He also gained huge experience in the design of large temporary structures (which at one stage involved the largest sheet-piled circular cofferdam in the world) and dealing with innovation at site level. His experience was uniquely different and equipped him with many ­technical and ­management skills.

From 1974 to 1982 he worked with consulting engineers Robert H. Cuthbertson and Partners on reservoir structures, water treatment plants, river and sea defence works, harbour engineering, roads and drainage, in projects all over Scotland, including water supply and drainage projects at Oban, Peterhead and ­Turriff. He was also involved with Occidental Oil on its ­terminal at Flotta, ­Orkney from 1979-1982.

John was introduced to ­conservation work by ­Cuthbertson around 1977, and since then worked extensively in historic buildings and structures combining all aspects of architectural and structural technologies in problem solving. With regard to ­historic buildings, he was a past vice-convenor of the ­technical committee of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in Scotland and an affiliate member of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland.

Addison Conservation + Design was founded in 2008 by John and his partner, the conservation architect-engineer Krystyna Pytasz, after ten years of successfully working together as a team on historic buildings and structures within Peter Stephen & Partners (later Aspen Waterman) and as part of Mott Macdonald in Edinburgh.

John was honorary lecturer at the University of Strathclyde, contributing to the MSc in architectural design for the conservation of built heritage with masterful lectures and practical workshops, while also becoming also a role ­model and mentor for ­students.

He gave talks on conservation engineering to many authorities including the National Trust for Scotland, Royal Incorporation of Chartered Surveyors, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the Dublin Civic Trust, the University of York, the National Park Service in Denver (USA) and Lynchburg Virginia (USA) and the Institutions of Structural Engineers and Civil Engineers in ­Scotland and Ireland.

He was employed on a ­regular basis by the ­Royal Household and was a ­consultant to the Queen’s ­Gallery at Holyrood Palace. Over the years he had worked on some of the most important heritage in Scotland and the UK. John’s practical experience of conserving complex historic structures was extensive and innovative. Occasionally, some of the solutions involve intervention of a high-tech nature or the innovative use of traditional, reinvented materials, such as iron and lime concrete.

With Krystyna, he developed many new conservation techniques, using lime concrete and clay mortars, special ­scaffolds for historic ­buildings, and strengthening techniques for floors and masonry structures.

The list of ancient monuments and historic buildings referred to here is only part of a vast workload successfully dealt with over the years. He considered himself privileged to have such a diverse range of important projects which extended from masonry bridges and medieval castles in Poland and Scotland, thatched cottages in the Highland hills, to an American ­revolutionary war fort built by French military engineers in the Gulf of Mexico.

In between these extremes he counted involvement in hundreds of large and small listed buildings, bridges, churches, harbours and unusual projects such as moving a unique riveted building at Leith docks and transferring the historic Telford ­Beacon to another site in Dundee. The latter is a stone tower structure which had to be underpinned, jacked in the air and leapfrogged by a massive crane to a new site by the Tay.

His experience covered all the theoretical and practical issues in scheming, designing and managing interventions on historic and old buildings such as the construction of the weather canopy above the unique Rosslyn Chapel and sinking deep basements under Grade A-listed former church buildings in city centres such as Mansfield Traquair in ­Edinburgh, Cottier Theatre in Glasgow, Annandale ­Distillery in Dumfries and Gallowayn and, most recently, the design of new basement at Linton House.

Another project was the Grade A-listed Britannia Panopticon Theatre in Glasgow, a building very close to John’s heart, where the original roof was strengthened in a most innovative way, a gable reskinned in stone and the frontage restored. Other Grade A buildings which John dealt with as a lead ­consultant in recent years include two stately homes, Scone ­Palace and Braemar Castle, open air swimming pools at ­Tarlair, Banffshire, and Pittenweem, Fife, and the ­rescue and ­conservation of a historic weir at Catrine, ­Ayrshire. His tireless research led to the ­discovery of unique historic significances of Scalan Mill and its threshing machinery and its upgrading to Grade A listing.

For John, in his own words: “All this is just everyday conservation where practical building knowledge is essential. Whatever the conservation challenge, the key to it all is getting a full understanding of what is there, what is wrong with it (if anything) and putting it right with the least loss of historic material and significances”.

He believed that conservation is the kindest thing that can be done for the planet so its role goes much further than just protecting ancient objects. It is now a mainstay in sustainability.

As well as his work, he was applying his skills to restoring the 16th-century home he shared with Krystyna. He is survived by her, his daughter Susan, and sons Colin and Stuart from an earlier relationship, his grandchildren Cameron and Jeniffer, his sister, Sheila and brother Mike.

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