My friend and former colleague Robert Maxwell, who has died aged 97, was an architect and academic who was best known as an essayist and critic, producing a stream of elegantly crafted reviews for architectural magazines over four decades – plus a number of books.
In the most sectarian of professions he was the least sectarian of critics; his Northern Irish childhood having left him with a lifelong dislike of bigotry or dogma. Whether he wrote about high-tech, postmodernism or classicism, he approached them all in a non-partisan way.
Born and raised in Downpatrick, he was the son of Robert Sr, clerk to the county secretary of County Down, and his wife, Jane (nee Gordon). He went to Down high school in Downpatrick and then studied architecture at Liverpool University alongside his lifelong friend, the future architect James Stirling. University was interrupted by second world war service in India, where he made another lifelong friend, the future architect and critic Alan Colquhoun. Once Robert had completed his studies, his first job, in 1950, was working on designing the “homes and gardens” pavilion, with Neville Conder, for the Festival of Britain.
Later he joined the London county council architects’ department, where he was responsible for the new exterior of the Royal Festival Hall, whose 1951 facade had been only temporary. Still regarded as one of the best examples in Britain of modern architecture, and one of London’s most loved public spaces, Maxwell’s design moved the main entrance to the river frontage.
In 1958 he started teaching at the Architectural Association, and from 1962 at University College London, where he became a professor until 1982, when he was appointed dean of the School of Architecture at Princeton University in the US. Many leading figures in architecture were taught or mentored by him and became friends.
With interests in art, literature, philosophy and music (he was an enthusiastic jazz pianist), Robert saw architecture as one cultural form among many others. As a teacher he was generous, and would invariably find something good to say about even the most mediocre scheme, even if he left one in no doubt of its actual merits.
After his retirement in 1993 the pace of his writing accelerated; he wrote seven books, including an autobiography, and had completed a final essay, on the French novelist Patrick Modiano, just before his death.
He is survived by his second wife, the architect and artist Celia Scott, whom he married in 1975, by three children, Melinda, Amanda and Robert, from his first marriage, to the landscape architect Margaret Howell, which ended in divorce, and five grandchildren.