Leslie Fairweather obituary

Other lives: Managing director of the Architectural Press who was an expert on the design of prisons

As a young man, my colleague Leslie Fairweather, who has died aged 89, contracted TB and spent four years in hospital. Thereafter, as if to make up for that, he lived life to the full. He became an architect and editor, and was an international authority on the design of prisons.

After designing the first extension to the Glyndebourne opera house in the late 1950s, Leslie joined the Architects’ Journal in 1962 to oversee the production of its design guide programme. He also co-edited the Metric Handbook, which was for years an indispensable handbook in every architect’s office and became the all-time bestseller for the Architectural Press.

In 1973 Leslie became editor of the Architects’ Journal. Incredibly competent, he adopted a low profile, leading from a broad consensus. In 1984, he became managing director of the Architectural Press. The company was transformed into a successful and confident group, winning awards and innovating on many fronts before being subjected to two takeovers within 15 months – the second by Robert Maxwell. Following Leslie’s retirement in 1991, the pension scheme was taken over by Maxwell, resulting in some worrying years for Leslie and other pensioners.

He achieved international distinction as a specialist in penal architecture. In 1961, he was one of those who initiated the first international conference on prison design. In 1975 he was technical consultant and key contributor to the first major book on the subject, Prison Design: An International Survey of Closed Institutions and Analysis of Current Trends. Undertaken on behalf of the United Nations, the project went far beyond the publication itself, involving visits of inspection (including to eastern Europe before the fall of communism). He was architectural adviser to the Howard League for Penal Reform and was particularly in demand following the Strangeways prison riots of 1990.

Born in Wandsworth, south-west London, Leslie was the son of William, a stationmaster, and his wife, Ethel. At the age of 10, he was evacuated to Torquay, Devon, where he had a brush with death – he was at sea in a small rowing boat when a German plane returning from a raid opened fire on him. He returned to his parents in Dorking, Surrey, where his father had been posted, and to Dorking County grammar.

After studying architecture at Brighton College of Art, and recovering from his illness, he worked in two offices before setting up on his own. At one stage, he combined his work on the AJ with lecturing at Bristol University.

In retirement, Leslie was an independent county councillor. He and his wife, Anne (who ran a local nursery school), lived in Balcombe, West Sussex, for many years. There, he served on the parish council, was chairman of the governors of a local primary school, wrote a book about the village, organised the VE Day and millennium celebrations and acted as architect for local churches. He was made OBE in 2005.

He is survived by Anne (nee Williamson, whom he married in 1963), his children, Ruth, David, Rachel, Mark and Michael, and 14 grandchildren.

Peter Carolin

The GuardianTramp

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