THE life and times of architect Roland Wedgwood were defined as much by his generosity and joie de vivre as his undoubted skill as a designer.
A man whose multi-faceted personality defies succinct description, he was adventurous and fun-loving, a quirky and complex individual whose free intellect left its mark on both his work and all those he encountered.
Born in East Sussex, he was the son of a metal and woodwork teacher who was also a highly-skilled cabinetmaker and whose family were descendents of the Wedgwood pottery dynasty – which may have accounted for the streak of creativity in his genes and his love of that Wedgwood shade of blue.
An extremely bright child, he went to Watford Grammar School aged 11. At about the same time, he met Claude Ripley, who was to become a lifelong friend and for whom he would also design.
By the time he was 15, he had excelled in his studies at school and went on to go to the Regent Street Polytechnic School of Architecture in London. During the course of his studies, he spent a year with a firm of architects in Zurich. There he met Gresham Dodd, with whom he later formed Wedgwood and Dodd, otherwise known by the pair as Dedwood and Wodg.
Wedgwood qualified when he was a mere 21 years old, becoming an associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. His first job, before he was called up for National Service, was with the Building Research Station at Watford.
He spent a total of five years in the army, following his compulsory two years with a further three-year commission. He served with the Royal Engineers in Egypt and Cyprus, was a garrison engineer with responsibility for army buildings and premises and left the forces as a lieutenant.
In 1957, his passion for cars saw him take off for Greece, in his 1924 Alvis, accompanied by his friend Claude. He spent about a year in Athens and ended up working with Greek architect and town planner Constantinos Doxiadis, who became known worldwide as the lead architect for the new city of Islamabad.
In the late 1950s, Wedgwood moved to Edinburgh where his life and practice would centre on one relatively small area of the city. His own flat and first office was at 1 Oxford Terrace, where he created a beautiful roof terrace, embracing his love of light, space and sun. He would later create another extraordinary roof terrace, high above the Water of Leith for the optician Murray McGrath, a project that remained one of his most dramatic commissions.
While he continued to live at Oxford Terrace, he moved his business to the glorious setting of Well Court Hall in the Dean Village, where his meeting room was housed in the clock tower. One of his first prominent commissions, in 1969, was the Tullyveolan housing development on Ravelston Dykes Road. The SAI office building, fronting Queensferry Road, followed in 1972, and a further project was sited on Ravelston Terrace. A housing association project in Lynedoch Place won a Royal Institute of British Architect’s award in 1980.
During his career he also sat on the panels of both the Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland and the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland.
Meanwhile, he had been devoted to his widowed mother, whom he eventually moved to Edinburgh, first to the lodge at Ravelston House and later to a flat in Clarendon Crescent. He was constantly buying and doing up homes for her where he thought she would be happier, helping her find friends and generally including her in his social activities to ensure she would not feel left out.
His desire to improve the quality of life of others was a trait witnessed many times over by those who were on the receiving end of his generous spirit. He lent one young graduate friend enough money to buy a flat she would otherwise have been unable to afford. When the sum was repaid it was lent out to help someone else. He similarly helped out a family who remember him as thoughtful, spontaneous and hospitable as well as generous.
“He would dash into our lives with such panache, usually behind the wheel of an exotic automobile, and drive out of it just as stylishly having doled out ten shilling notes to us all,” recalled his niece Katherine. “Oh, how we admired and loved him. And when he was with us he would bring an energy and life into our routine lives – a breath of sophistication and style, humour and wit, that left us feeling flat and bereft as he drove gaily away until next time.”
A bohemian free spirit, he never really retired and said he just wanted to “keep playing with buildings”.
He restored two ruins: one in Fife, the other in Burgundy. The French farmhouse was an ever-evolving project, with a beautiful living space and lots of protuberances, and for a good decade he split his time between there and Edinburgh, happy to make the long drive between his homes.
He also loved the outdoors – he was fixated on being able to access the sun throughout the day – and though he didn’t ski, he would accompany friends to the slopes and lie on the mountain, in a sleeping bag in the snow, contemplating nature.
Once, after an architectural tour that ended in New Zealand, he flew to Los Angeles and despite his jet lag, went down to the Pacific so he could savour a sunset on one side of the ocean after an early morning swim on the other.
He spent his final years at Strachan House Care Home in Craigcrook Road where, thanks to his years as a creative, open-minded boss who welcomed free thinking, he enjoyed the company of many ex-employees who regularly visited him, often whisking him back to his Oxford Terrace flat for an evening of drams and debate.
Fittingly for a man who had so loved light, views and space, his final resting place is the natural burial ground at Hundy Mundy Wood outside Edinburgh, a spectacular setting within view of the beautiful Robert Adam stately home, Mellerstain House.
He is survived by his brother Peter, nephews and nieces Roland, Jeremy, Katherine, Sarah and Helen and their families. ALISON SHAW