Real lives: ‘Green giant’ led the way in eco architecture

Howard Liddell. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Howard Liddell. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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TRIBUTES have been paid to one of the most influential green architects of his generation, after he died last month aged 67.

Howard Liddell, from East Lothian, died just days before he was due to receive the OBE he was awarded for services to ecological design.

An Edinburgh University graduate, he had built his reputation across a career spanning more than 30 years in sustainable and community architecture.

His work included ten years in academia as both a senior lecturer and director of research at the innovative School of Architecture at Hull and a two-year stint as guest professor in building technology in Oslo, Norway.

Howard returned home to found Gaia Architects in the 1980s, his Scandinavian experience helping him and his partner, Professor Sandy Halliday, forge a reputation for practical buildings ranging from affordable housing, to schools and visitor centres.

His practice won the UK House of the Year award in 1993.

Designing the Glencoe Clachan Visitor Centre was among his firm’s key projects and he was also behind Fairfield Housing, an affordable housing project in Perth that won a UN Habitat Award for regeneration.

More recent projects included Highlands school Acharacle Primary, which was the first brettstapel [glueless] building created in Britain.

Howard founded the Scottish Ecological Design Association (Seda) in 1991, remaining active within the organisation throughout his career. Seda’s main aim is to share knowledge, skills and experience of ecological design.

Fionn Stevenson, professor of sustainable design at the University of Sheffield, met Howard at a conference in 1991. She described her peer as a “green giant, upon whose shoulders stand many of us”.

Ms Stevenson said: “He will be hugely missed for his foresight and uncanny ability to spot the next problem to be solved in green building, and to solve it.

“His holistic thinking about building biology and urban ecology was always well ahead of the pack, and he introduced many new concepts and design strategies to the UK.”

Howard’s extensive charity work included time with the Children’s EcoCity concept in 1992. He ran a week-long event in Edinburgh where 40 children aged ten to 12 from several countries drew up their ideal city.

Speaking soon after his OBE was announced, Howard said he believed 2013 could offer hope for sustainable architects. He said: “As we have seen endless missed opportunities, greenwash and tokenism gain sway over the past 20 years, I have spent 2012 saying ‘the bad guys are winning’. To be given a glimmer of hope that this might change would be all I would ask for in 2013.”

Howard is survived by his widow, Prof Halliday, and his children Becky, Emma, Briony and Jamie.