Peter Lord 1929-2021

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Peter Lord 1929-2021

Peter John Lord, AA Dipl (Hons), RIBA, PPSIAD, FBIM was only 17 when he won a Leverhulme Scholarship to study at the AA, the youngest ever recipient of the award. PJL as he was known in his beloved architectural practice graduated to join Mike and Inette Austin-Smith at JM Austin-Smith and Partner. In 1963 Geoffrey Salmon and Peter became partners and the practice was renamed Austin-Smith/Salmon/Lord; then Austin-Smith:Lord, when in 1969 Geoffrey formed his own practice. Peter became Senior Partner in 1981 when Mike and Inette retired. He stepped down on his own retirement in 1995.

Peter and the Austin-Smiths were intuitively aware of the importance of branding in marketing the business and so the punctuation marks, the hyphen and colon became fundamental to the corporate identity of the firm. They were omitted from correspondence on fear of death; and “Austin effing Smith Lord” became a derogatory hook for envious competitors!

In line with the early holistic approach of the partners, the environment was all important in the setting of architecture, and design of the interior and fittings was key to its success. So the firm adopted the strap line “planners architects designers”. Peter took on the mantle of design lead, becoming president of SIAD (the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers, now CSD the Chartered Society of Designers) and General Secretary of ICSID (International Council of the Societies of Industrial Design, now known as WDO, the World Design Organisation); whilst Mike Austin-Smith, was RIBA Life Vice President for International Affairs.

Peter Lord

He was a restless creative, a polymath designer to whom graphics, interiors and product design all contributed to the integrity of architecture. His approach was robust, pragmatic and intelligent; the most effective solution of the client’s need was crucial in the creative process. He would direct his juniors to focus expenditure on the parts people touched. One could omit the plaster, but the switches and door furniture should be of the highest quality; an approach which has become ingrained in the DNA of the Practice. This generated an architecture of integrity, clarity and sustainability and in the early days endeared the firm to clients such as IBM, Thomson Mclintock (now KPMG) and Heffers Bookshops amongst others.

His approach to design was innovative in delivery, informed by the clients’ business needs. In the early years he was responsible for some of the first supermarkets, GEM Stores and a brutalist complex of apartments in Camden for Abbey Road Co-op. For Heffers bookshop in Cambridge, he opened up the sales floors into a basement area, vastly extending the prime retail space in a rich mix of in-situ concrete and hardwood. Such was the strength of the Practice’s connection with clients that Peter also got to build a family home for the Heffers.

PJL was a big man with a reputation as a demanding leader, who could ‘throw the toys around’ if things weren’t going well, but he was also a very proper gentleman, and totally supportive of his partners, regardless of their opinions of him.

To Peter, the firm was all-important, its output the result of collective talent and endeavour, so it is difficult to single out later projects for which he might claim credit, yet his influence was all pervasive. He was the owner and proudest promoter of the firm’s collective achievements in town planning and highway design, as well as the wide range of architectural, landscape and interior design commissions; a truly multi disciplinary design practice.

His eye for photography was equally keen, creating images to a professional standard, whilst his love of drawing and graphics even resulted in quirky hand-crafted Christmas cards, invariably the first to arrive, marking the start of the season.

He had a love for hockey, a game he played until work became all consuming. He later found time for fly fishing, bird watching, driving fast cars and collecting modern art, clocks and barometers, and all sorts of found objects.

Peter married Shirley in 1956 and devoted his life to her and to their daughter Kathryn, who both succeed him. The funeral was at Cromer Crematorium, near his ultimate home in Cley next the Sea, from which he was able to immaculately assemble his personal archive and to wonder at the wetland birds on the Norfolk marshes.

Peter John Lord, Born 1 September 1929; died at home, Cley next the Sea, 6 May 2021.


Obituary written by Alistair Sunderland