Penelope Whiting obituary

Other lives: Architect involved in the postwar creation of new towns

My aunt, Penelope Whiting, who has died aged 99, was an architect who joined the innovative practice of Yorke, Rosenberg and Mardall (YRM), working on new postwar housing. For the Ministry of Works she designed prefabricated homes to meet the immediate housing shortage; a few are still in use today.

The practice was deeply involved in new towns; Penelope designed the Mark Hall and Ladyshott estates at Harlow, Essex, and understood the effects of uprooting people from their communities. There was a real and widespread belief then that good new housing could improve lives, and Penelope was part of the culture that inspired a new generation to take up this challenge. FRS Yorke had many artist friends, and YRM commissioned Henry Moore to create the sculpture Family Group for Stevenage.

For the airport at Gatwick, Penelope designed the passenger bridge linking the existing railway station to the new airport building and was involved in discussions about the curtain walling, for which the designer Peggy Angus made cloud-like marbled glass.

The daughter of Gerald Whiting, a naval architect and general manager of a shipbuilders, and his wife, Irene (nee Stroud), a violinist, Penelope was born in Newcastle-on-Tyne. She attended Malvern St James school, and trained at the Architectural Association, Bedford Square, in London.

Penelope started writing books on architecture, at first with Yorke, published by the Architectural Press. In 1953 they produced The New Small House – a “picture book to be browsed through”, in Yorke’s words, which as a result reached a wide public. However, as with the books that followed, it was far more than a picture book, with plans, costs and heating solutions, as well as sections on materials shortages and space standards.

Penelope Whiting
Penelope Whiting co-wrote The New Small House (1953) with FRS Yorke Photograph: None

With Yorke, Penelope co-edited Specification, then a technical bible in architectural practice, writing the section on floor finishes (about which she later wrote a separate book). Her engineer husband, Trevor Hawkes, whom she married in 1946, contributed a piece on contractors’ equipment.

After Yorke’s death in 1962 Penelope set up her own practice in west London, working on Southlands Training College in Wimbledon. The complex has since mainly been modified into flats, but at the time Penelope and her assistants Peter Leitner and Alan Gibbs created a fine library, blocks of teaching rooms, and a staff house complete with its own bridge.

Penelope also published two further influential books: New Houses (1964) and New Single-Storey Houses (1966), focusing on a variety of modern and economical English houses to which the public could relate. She continued with her practice until Trevor’s sudden death in 1983, when Penelope retired and moved from London to Newnham-on-Severn in the Forest of Dean.

She is survived by their two children, Timothy and Amanda, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Nicolette Baines

The GuardianTramp

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