Charles Rattray
Image by: Graeme Hutton

In memoriam: Charles Rattray (1956-2022)

By John McRae/ David McClean - 23 August 2022

In memoriam of Charles Rattray (1956-2022), Lecturer at The Scott Sutherland School of Architecture & Built Environment between 1990-2006.

Green jumper, Tervakoski sketch paper roll under his arm, wry mischievous smile, a twinkle in his eye and a quick look across the studio to see who was there was how Charles announced his arrival each day. It wasn’t long before an anecdote had us all in fits of laughter and then sat around a table discussing what seemed an obtuse topic which only later you realised was very relevant to architecture.

This was the early 90s and there was an air of change under the stewardship of Robin Webster who was bringing distinguished names to tutor and critique at the school. Along with David McClean, John Brady, Graeme Hutton and others there was a new energy and passion for intellectual thinking that underpinned rational and beautiful design. An open collaborative studio underpinned this ethos and armed with new linoleum-covered worktops, mayline parallel motions and Alvar Aalto stools the scene was set for us. In our first week, he noted (and quickly removed) a copy of the sun newspaper advising us that this was not the quality of information fit for the studio.

Charles was heavily influenced by Ivor Richards whom he worked under when they worked on the new Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Renfrew Street, Glasgow by Sire Leslie Martin. The ‘someone has to draw it’ Ivor Richards mantra alongside with his fastidious attention to drawing with a clutch pencil, with no crossed lines, engrained the beauty of the process and product into Charles. They both shared a Love of Alvar Aalto and this was passed onto us as students.

Charles had a critical eye for a plan and section and would often challenge us to refine, them to create rational, logical and beautiful designs. He found it difficult when others didn’t share his passion for architecture and wasn’t shy at expressing his disquiet albeit it in a professional and polite manner. He enjoyed sharing his knowledge of emerging practices such as Bach & Mora, Claus Kaan and Geurst & Schulze Architecten and wrote about them very eloquently for ARQ magazine which he edited for a number of years.

He led from the front with his infectious energy, cared about his students and spent an inordinate amount of time, often into the early evening, assisting us to resolve the conundrums of our designs. He was generous with his time and knowledge and when he heard I was doing my Part I in London found me (without asking or being asked) a studio flat in Clapham. I kept in touch with Charles after I completed university and we met up a few times in London over a meal and glass of wine and he latterly joined me on the editorial board of Design Exchange magazine.

Charles was a true gentleman, passionate about architecture, photography and music that wanted the best for all of his students. He brilliantly balanced objective critical thinking, writing, teaching and practice in an understated and cheerful manner which is very hard to emulate. Whilst Charles didn’t build many buildings, his finest being the work to his own home, his family are beginning to understand the incredible impact his teaching and writing had on a generation of architecture students at both Aberdeen and Dundee as tributes have come in following his death.

Charles will be sorely missed but his legacy will carry on and I will continue to ask myself ‘what would Charles say’ when tackling difficult design challenges.

John McRae
Director, ORMS Architects, London
(Architecture student, 1991-1997)

Charles Rattray
Charles was one of the finest colleagues that I have had the good fortune to work with, and there have been many. In September 1992 I clearly recall starting my academic career at the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture, as it was then, to be temporarily given a desk in the office of Charles and his kindred spirit, Graeme Hutton. It was a hotbed of fervent discussion and debate, wry cultural observation, and abundant humour. Immediately, I was struck by Charles’ generosity of spirit, and warm, welcoming demeanour.

In the months and years that followed I witnessed the passion, intellect, and rigour that drove his own work as well as his expectations of others. His expansive and deep knowledge was apparent, yet he had the endearing quality of never taking himself too seriously. I think of Charles as a craftsman, whether of the designs he worked on, or supported students to produce, or in honing the text of his written work; always striving for clarity and the essential. Above all, he was a talented and gifted teacher as borne out by the many, many tributes that have been paid by alumni on various platforms.

He was mischievous, had enormous joie de vivre, and regardless of the situation, laughter was never far away. And never more so than when in the company of Graeme, with whom he ran a practice for a number of years. When Graeme took up the headship at the School of Architecture in Dundee, I knew it was only a matter of time before Charles felt compelled to restore the partnership and, not long after assuming the headship, I distinctly remember the feeling of helplessness at realising that I could do nothing to stop his departure. He was a great loss to the School then, but this pales to insignificance in the context of the loss that we all feel now. Charles, your bright, lively, and witty repartee, your scholarship, passion, companionship, and good humour will be sorely missed by all those whose lives you undoubtedly enriched.

David McClean
Dean of Scott Sutherland School of Architecture & Built Environment (2006-2022)

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