Stanley Amis, who has died aged 97, was one of the last surviving members of a generation of architects who returned from second world war service to shape the infrastructure and visual identity of the country. Theirs was a social architecture, characterised by a serious engagement with the users of their buildings. In Amis’s case these included Cambridge graduates and submariners; prisoners and pensioners; theatre-goers and council tenants.
He cut his teeth on the Alton West estate, Roehampton, for the London county council (LCC), a translation of Le Corbusier’s principles of urbanism into an English parkland setting. At the LCC, with Bill Howell, John Killick and John Partridge he formed an inseparable team. Their subsequent practice, Howell Killick Partridge & Amis (HKPA) injected British architecture with a shot of zeal and rigour, drawing upon architectural history and visual analogies with such things as toys, tents, aeroplanes and tortoise shells.
Of the partners, Amis was, in Partridge’s words, an “organisation man”. He was adept at running large and complex jobs and had the schedules and finances of the practice at his fingertips. Yet it would be a mistake to discount his design abilities. Amis’s best buildings evince a refined attitude to daylight and materials, a resourceful use of site and budget and an explicit approach to structure.
Precast concrete, his medium of choice, was approached as an assemblage of bits: how the components come together, how they hit the ground and how they meet the sky. It was a down-to-earth approach; the architect Clare Wright, who started out at HKPA, remarked on the way in which the partners “revelled in the everydayness of architecture” – the antithesis of the pretentious, self-centred design culture that prevails today.
Early on, the mathematically minded Amis became fascinated with geometry and architectural proportion, becoming one of the first British architects to translate into feet and inches the Modulor, the scale of proportions devised by Le Corbusier and used when designing Alton West.
The Modulor was recapitulated at 80-90 South Hill Park in Hampstead (1954-56), six terraced houses by Amis with Bill and Gillian Howell, for themselves and four acquaintances. It became an influential model, being studied by Neave Brown for his houses at Winscombe Street in Dartmouth Park.
HKPA forged their reputation in the expanding field of educational buildings. A maiden commission was Acland Burghley (1963-77), a comprehensive school for their former employer, the LCC. Working within stringent cost limits, Amis derived visual interest from the modelled concrete cladding and a top-lit assembly hall. His expertise in precast concrete was put to use at the 1970-72 faculty of urban and regional studies at Reading University, a bristling display of ochre-hued posts and double beams. South Hill Park, Acland Burghley and the Reading faculty are today listed buildings.
An ability to think at the largest and the smallest scales simultaneously came in handy at Devonport naval base, HKPA’s largest project, where, over 15 years, Amis oversaw the design of a fleet maintenance base and a refit complex for nuclear submarines.
At the same time he set about converting Lower Trevollard, a derelict farmhouse in rural Cornwall, as a family home and branch office. The most memorable part – now sadly altered – was the South House where, under a roof of reclaimed Delabole slate, Amis created an open-plan interior of rubble walls, slate flags, exposed king post trusses and pine furniture of his own design.
Stanley was born in Virginia Water, Surrey, the son of Frederick Amis, an electrical engineer for the International Western Electric Company, and Belinda (nee Nash). He attended Merchant Taylors’ school in London, then gained a place at the Architectural Association (AA) School of Architecture, where Frederick Gibberd was then principal.
After service with the Fleet Air Arm and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, he returned to the AA in 1946. It was a rich mix of returning servicemen and school-leavers, half of whom were women. There he met his future practice partners Killick and Bill Howell, with whom he joined the architect’s department of the LCC in 1950.
After a stint with Easton and Robertson, working as the site architect for the Shell Centre on the South Bank in London, Amis was reunited with Howell, Killick and Partridge in 1961. After retiring from HKPA in 1989, he gained his private pilot’s licence and was flying single-engine aircraft into his 80s.
Amis married Isabel Over in 1946; the couple had two children, Mark and Philip. After Isabel’s death, in 1965 Amis married the actor Margaret Wolfit; they had a daughter, Lucy. The marriage was later dissolved. Amis is survived by his third wife, Thelma Sorensen, whom he married in 2005, and by Lucy and Philip. Mark predeceased him.