Philip Dowson PRA (1924 - 2014)

Sir Philip Dowson’s long career is an exemplary demonstration of the view that architecture is a combination of art and science. From the early 1950s he worked with the legendary engineer Sir Ove Arup, initially as an architect within the engineering firm but from 1963 as a founding partner of Arup Associates, the division of the Ove Arup Partnership where architects, engineers and quantity surveyors collaborate in designing buildings. Under Dowson’s guidance Arup Associates developed a distinctive approach to architecture which used the rational, even scientific conditions of function, construction technique and the character of materials as the basis of design. Their buildings quickly won plaudits for their clarity, logic and elegance. Arup Associates’ approach appealed in particular to clients wanting large and complex buildings, such as institutional headquarters and university departments.

Among their notable achievements was the concept of the “tartan grid”. This was a development of the classic modernist idea of a grid in which thin bays of the tartan pattern provided a dedicated zone of structure and mechanical servicing, leaving the larger bays clear for functional use. It worked equally well for science laboratories and offices.

Arup Associates’ clear and powerful forms also pioneered a way of working in historic contexts. The Thomas White Building at St John’s College, Oxford, integrated an ancient wall within its assembly of moulded concrete components, while the conversion of the Maltings at Snape for Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears showed how an existing building could become a top class concert hall.

Dowson’s personal interests also spanned art and science. He was a trustee of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the National Portrait Gallery, as well as an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Art and the American Institute of Architects. He became a Royal Academician in 1979 and two years later was awarded the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture.

After retiring as a senior partner of the Ove Arup Partnership in 1990, Dowson remained active in many fields. Between 1993 and 1999 he was President of the Royal Academy.


Royal Academician


Elected ARA: 9 May 1979

Elected RA: 14 November 1985

Born: 16 August 1924

Died: 22 August 2014