Architect named award winner hours before death

Kathryn Findlay, who had worked in Qatar, died of a brain tumour

Kathryn Findlay.
Kathryn Findlay.

One of Britain’s leading architects, who has worked extensively in Qatar, has been named for a top award – just hours before news of her death broke.

Kathryn Findlay had been chosen as winner of the 2014 Jane Drew Prize by the UK’s AJ Women in Architecture jury, who described her as “one of the most original and significant British architects, influential and inspiring in her thinking”.

But after the jury had adjourned, news broke of Findlay’s death, aged 60. The cause was diagnosed as a tumour of the brain.

Her prize is awarded to the person who has made the greatest contribution to the status and profile of women in architecture.

During the judging, City of London chief planning officer Peter Rees described her as “an unsung hero” in architecture, while Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre chief executive Laura Lee said Findlay should be “celebrated as a great teacher, educator and supporter, with a diverse influence that has permeated architectural culture”.

Among Findlay’s projects in the Middle East were residences for the royal family in Qatar and the Doha Art Foundation.

She also converted an old fort in Qatar into a museum exhibiting textiles and costumes, as well as offering a space for women to explore contemporary fashion and design.

And in recent years the Orbit tower, which was a central feature of London’s 2012 Olympic Park, was one of her major achievements.

Former winner Zaha Hadid said: “Like myself, in the early days, Kathryn struggled as a woman in architecture, but she persevered. I remember her when we were both students at the AA (Architectural Association) she was very hard working and enthusiastic. It is shame that she is not here to receive this award personally, but it is lovely that her family get to see her honoured in this way.”

Findlay, born in Scotland, spent 20 years working in Japan. She formed the architecture practice Ushida Findlay with her husband in 1986, before returning to the UK in 1999.

Among her posts have been Associate Professor of Architecture at Tokyo University, Visiting Professor at the Technical University of Vienna and at UCLA, as well as Honorary Professor at the University of Dundee.

The work of Ushida Findlay has been described as “expressionist, organic modernist and surrealist”. It was typified by the Salvador Dali-inspired Soft and Hairy House, built in 1994 in Tsukuba, Japan. The walls appear to rise from the ground and are covered in vegetation – much of it edible. They surround a courtyard with a distinctive blue bathroom to one side. 

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