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Former RIBA president Bryan Jefferson dies

Tributes paid to architect who served in the post from 1979 to 1981

Bryan Jefferson.
Bryan Jefferson.

Urban design veering towards the brutalist school and dealing with the legacy of an architectural fellowship awarded to Soviet spy Anthony Blunt were just two of the achievements of former Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) president Bryan Jefferson who has died aged 86.

He served in the post between 1979 and 1981 and also in public office in later years.

Jefferson was born in 1928 in Sheffield, United Kingdom, and, following the death of his father in a World War II air raid, was educated at Lady Manners School before studying architecture at the University of Sheffield.

He joined a firm set up in Derby by Irish architect Sam Morrison before being asked to open a regional office in Sheffield. A series of changes in structure lead to the firm being rebranded as Jefferson Sheard and Partners in 1957.

Early projects included residential developments in Huddersfield before the company was tasked with rebuilding war-ravaged Sheffield with a number of radical modernisations.

These included an electricity sub-station in the early 1960s which was commended in the Financial Times Architectural Awards and eventually given Grade II Listed status. A stark landmark, it was ceremonially floodlit by the local council in 2010 – despite polarising opinion across the city.

The switching on was the occasion of Jefferson’s final visit to his home city where his other projects included council offices, union premises and a base for the probation service.

From the age of 16 gliding was his passion and the architect, who represented England at the sport, was responsible for the headquarters of the Derbyshire and Lancashire Gliding Club in the Peak District.

During his tenure as RIBA president Blunt, then an honorary fellow, was revealed to be a spy but fortunately for the organisation took a hit and resigned.

In public life Jefferson acted as advisor on architecture to the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Department of National Heritage – since renamed Culture, Media and Sport.

He retired from public affairs at the age of 73 after helping to establish the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, but still worked in an advisory capacity for his old university and various professional and industry bodies.

At the same time as his retirement he was diagnosed with leukaemia, but according to Jefferson Sheard managing director Tom Rhys Jones willpower likened to “the hardest of Sheffield steel” kept the condition at bay.

“Bryan Jefferson, the man, his life and his works – were masterpieces of understated elegance yet solid and of real substance, his practice’s buildings continue to serve their purpose into their second half-century,” said Rhys Jones in tribute. 

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