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Basic Biographical Details
|Name: ||Vernon Harry Lee |
|Designation: ||Architect |
|Born: ||11 April 1924 |
|Died: ||December 2018 |
|Bio Notes: ||Vernon Harry Lee was born in April 1924 in Kingston upon Hull. When he was six his family moved to York. He attended Nunthorpe Grammar School where his art master encouraged him to study architectural history and, as a result, he made a study of local churches around York. He won a number of school prizes and was Head Boy in 1942. Later that year he commenced the course at the School of Architecture in Liverpool which at that time had the reputation of being the best school in the country. However after a term he was called up for war service and joined the RAF, training as a fighter pilot. After a year he was invalided out. |
In 1943 he returned to Liverpool to recommence his studies. His course was shorter than normal because of the war. In their fourth year students were expected to gain practical experience. At this time there was little work available in the UK so on the suggestion of one of his professors, he went to work for Staub Rather & More in Houston, Texas until the end of 1945. His journey to the States was not without incident as he sailed on a banana boat which ran into a mine field. He was detained in Halifax, Nova Scotia for 3-4 weeks due to visa problems but he was finally able to continue his journey south after the RIBA interceded on his behalf. His work in Houston included a hospital for veterans in San Antonio and a large ranch house, the design of which had to include a number of relics collected by the rancher’s wife.
After his 6-month stay in Houston, he travelled to other places in the States, including New Orleans, the University of Virginia, Mount Vernon, Washington and New York and returned to Britain on the Queen Elizabeth. He recommenced his studies in Liverpool, where he completed his thesis on York University and graduated with a first class honours. He was elected ARIBA in 1948 (and ARIAS in 1964).
He spent an additional year studying civic design at the Liverpool School of Architecture. He also won a University scholarship to study school design in Switzerland with Emil Roth. In 1948-49 he worked for Sir William Holford on the Cambridge Development Plan, after which in September 1949 he returned to Liverpool as assistant to Edmund Kirby & Sons to work on war damaged offices and schools. In 1951 he had a chance to work with Eero Saarinen in Michigan but this was cancelled because of the Korean War. Instead he took a post as senior assistant with Hertfordshire County Council where the architect’s office which was vibrant, very progressive and very democratic. He worked as job architect on a number of primary schools initially and later secondary schools and further education colleges. He also developed a new buildings system, using brick walls and timber beams as an alternative to the pre-fabricated systems then being used. During this period he designed his own house which was featured in the journal ‘Architectural Design’ (November 1953).
In December 1954 he moved to London to work for Farmer & Dark as group leader in charge of the offices, research laboratories and tissue factory for the Bowwater Paper company in Kent working with Frankland Dark. In December 1956 he returned to Hertfordshire as chief assistant architect and group leader, schools projects. William Tatton Brown, the deputy chief architect in Hertford became chief architect at the Ministry of Health in London and invited Lee to join him there and in March 1960 Lee moved to the Ministry of Health in London as senior development and research architect in hospitals. Later that year he moved to the NW Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board as Deputy Regional Architect with a whole range of duties including a number of new hospitals including Stevenage.
Stirrat Marshall, whom he had met while commuting to London encouraged him to work for Robert Matthew and in June 1963 he joined RMJM as group architect in charge of hospitals and from August 1966 as partner in charge. He took the place of Gwent Forestier Walter who was a hospital specialist but who left the practice about this time. Two major projects of which Lee was in charge were the redevelopment of the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh and the Royal Victoria Hospital medical and dental schools and biological sciences in Newcastle. He was also in charge of major additions to the secondary school at Firrhill. He was admitted FRIBA on 4 December 1968, his proposers being Robert Hogg Matthew, Magnus John Slater and Alastair J Telford.
In 1970 the practice was approached by the Ministry of Overseas Development to design a health facilities for Grenada and this was undertaken in conjunction with a local firm. At about this time Bill Metcalf, an architect in the USA, who wanted Robert Matthew to join him in partnership, approached the practice. He had been contacted by the Peruvian Government to undertake an assessment with a view to rebuilding Yungay which had been devastated by an earthquake. In the end the assessment was not undertaken but the ruined town was made into a memorial to those who died there.
In 1973, at the behest of the other partners in the firm, Lee represented the firm on the British Consultants Bureau. He was invited to join the board which he did and stayed on the Board for 10 years, the last two of which were as chairman. The Duke of Gloucester was President at this time. From time to time the British Government sponsored visits to various places including China, India, Burma and the Philippines during which the Bureau promoted British consultancy.
In 1976, invited by the Egyptian Government, RMJM drew up a report on the damage sustained in Egypt by the Arab-Israeli war but no job followed the report. Further overseas work, however, did come their way. The Ministry of Overseas Development appointed the firm to design a hospital in Monserrat which was supervised by Lee, as partner in charge and the firm’s hospital specialist. Princess Anne laid the foundation stone of the hospital. The event was depicted on local postage stamps. Further hospital proposals followed in Belize, Trinidad and Anguilla. Through a personal contact from student days, Lee was asked to advise on plans for redeveloping Shenzhen along similar lines to Hong Kong. Lee visited the village which contained many examples of fine vernacular architecture. He tried to dissuade the Chinese from some of this development but he was largely ignored.
Lee was involved in designing various other hospitals overseas in the 1980s and an assembly building for the government in St Vincent. He was appointed practice chairman in Scotland in 1985 in which post he remained until his retirement in 1989, though unofficially he remained until 1990.
Private and Business Addresses
|The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:|
| ||Address||Type||Date from||Date to||Notes|
|c/o Morley House Flat, Ware, Hertfordshire, England||Private/business(?)||1953|| || |
|Whitespar, Queen Hoo Lane, Tewin, Hertfordshire, England||Private(?)||1954|| || |
|17, Anne Street, Edinburgh, Scotland||Private||1963 *||1964|| |
|Craigentor, Gilmerton-by-Crieff, Perthshire, Scotland||Private||1965 *||After 1970|| |
|15, Hill Street, Edinburgh, Scotland||Business||1970 *|| || |
|15, Regent Terrace, Edinburgh, Scotland||Private||1972 *|| || |
|Rumbling Bridge, Kinross-shire, Scotland||Private||2010|| || |
* earliest date known from documented sources.
Employment and Training
Buildings and Designs
|The following books contain references to this architect:|
|Bailey, Rebecca M||1996||Scottish architects' papers: a source book|| ||Edinburgh: The Rutland Press||p135|
|Dunne, Jack and Richmond, Peter||2008||The World in One School: the history and influence of the Liverpool School of Architecture|| ||Liverpool University Press||pp54-55|
|RIBA||1954||RIBA Kalendar 1953-54|| || || |
|RIBA||1964||The RIBA Kalendar 1963-64|| || || |
|RIBA||1970||RIBA Directory 1970|| || || |
|Saint, Andrew|| ||Towards a Social Architecture: the role of school building in post-war England|| || ||p98|
|The following periodicals contain references to this architect:|
| ||Periodical Name||Date||Edition||Publisher||Notes|
|Architectural Design||November 1953||v 23|| ||pp300-301 Article entitled 'Single-Storey Houses' which includes Lee's house, Tewin, Herts.|
|Architectural Review||October 1955||no 6|| ||p258. Article descibing Lee's own house at Tewin, Herts.|
|Future Magazine||1955|| || ||Showing Britain in 1955 and Lee's Architectue thesis for a University for York. Illustrations on p55-57.|
|Ideal Home||1955|| || ||Details to be checked.|
Article on Lee's house entitled 'New Imaginative One Storey House for a Growing Family'.
|The following archives hold material relating to this architect:|
| ||Source||Archive Name||Source Catalogue No.||Notes|
|Courtesy of Mr Lee||Interview with Vernon Lee, 3 February 2010|| ||Interview 3/02/2010|
© All rights reserved. Courtesy of Mr Vernon Lee
© All rights reserved. School prize-giving. Courtesy of Mr Vernon Lee.