Dennis Sharp - architect, historian, crotoc, curator and bibliophile - dies aged 76
The death of Dennis Sharp on 6 May has robbed architecture of one its most eminent and prolific authors, critics and commentators. Sharp’s writing was impressive, not only for its scholarly approach, but also for the clear, erudite language with which he expressed his ideas. But he was also a practising architect and his knowledge of construction informed his critical thinking and writing.
Born in 1933 into a family of building contractors, he began his architectural career at the Architectural Association in London, and later studied at the University of Liverpool under Quentin Hughes. He did his National Service in Dortmund, which whetted his appetite for German expressionism and modernism, and went on to teach at Manchester University.
He succeeded John Summerson as head of architectural history at the AA in 1969. With nearly 50 books to his name, Sharp’s bibliography included Modern Architecture and Expressionism (1966), A Visual History of Twentieth-Century Architecture (third edition, 2002), a translation of Hermann Muthesius’ The English House (2007) and a comprehensive survey of the work of 1930s modernists Connell, Ward and Lucas (2008), written with Sally Rendel.
His love of cinema architecture resulted in The Picture Place (1976) and he authored monographs on Manfredi Nicoletti, Kisho Kurokawa and Santiago Calatrava. He also curated several exhibitions and made innumerable contributions to architectural journals.
AAQ, the Architectural Association Quarterly, which he edited between 1967 and 1983, remains an outstanding reference series, with contributions from luminaries of the period.
‘As executive editor of World Architecture between 1990 and 1992 he introduced an international audience to the work of architects such as Clorindo Testa, Giancarlo de Carlo, Gustav Peichl, Reima Pietilä and others.’
He was a founder member of CICA (the International Committee of Architectural Critics) and UK chair of Docomomo, the international body dedicated to the documentation and conservation of modern-movement buildings.
Through his architectural firm Dennis Sharp Architects, he was also involved in practice. He was particularly proud of the conservation work carried out on Robert Adam’s Chandos House in London, and the restoration of houses by Connell, Ward and Lucas.
My first encounter with Dennis took place in Malta in 1968 through our mutual friend Quentin Hughes. At the time Hughes was running the architecture school at the University of Malta, and Dennis had been invited as a visiting lecturer. Soon he became an invaluable mentor as well as a close friend.
One my fondest memories is of the time we spent together as visiting tutors for the International Academy of Architecture at the splendid Santo Kiriko Monastery in Plovdiv, Bulgaria in 1991. During this period I discovered his passion for jazz and the old 78 recordings of that genre’s great exponents. Often we spent hours discussing our musical tastes, mine being a penchant for the operatic tenor voice on recordings of the same era.
I last saw Dennis in hospital only two days before his demise, a touching and difficult occasion, yet also immensely rewarding. Even then, he was still enthusiastically talking about future publications, typical of his unstinting fervour.