Alan Davidson obituary

Other lives: Architectural illustrator who pioneered the use of computers

My friend Alan Davidson, who has died aged 58 of motor neurone disease, pioneered the art of architectural visualisation, starting with a flirtation with Apple computers on an “in practice” year in Fiji in 1982 while studying architecture at Edinburgh University and then setting up his own business in the tiny front room of a flat in Ravenscourt Park, London, in 1989.

Alan was an extremely talented architectural illustrator, translating those skills and mindset into cutting-edge 3D computer imagery. He began by working with one of the most innovative and successful architectural practices of the time, the Richard Rogers Partnership, and never looked back. His studio, Hayes Davidson, was the first of its kind in the UK and remains a world leader.

Born in Aberdeen, the elder child of Sandy Davidson, a lawyer, and Anne (nee Hayes), a flight attendant for Airwork airlines, Alan excelled at sport at Robert Gordon’s college, and began a lifelong fascination with music, later becoming an accomplished guitarist.

In 1978 he began a fine art degree at Edinburgh University, changing to architecture studies and purchasing his first computer the following year. The practice he worked for in Fiji had invested heavily in the Apple Lisa and on completing his degree and moving to London, Alan used the newly introduced Macintosh in his work as an architect and architectural illustrator. Foreseeing the potential of larger and specialist illustration studios employing computers, in 1989 he founded Hayes Davidson.

Alan Davidson, architectural illustrator.
Alan Davidson, architectural illustrator. Photograph: HayesDavidson

Typical of his zany sense of humour and his sense of adventure were the parties held at his studio in west London. His interests were wide and his ambitions out of this world – he signed up with Virgin Galactic to be one of the first civilians into space, only to have to back out when their plans hit a setback in 2014. He lived life to the full, swimming from Turkey to Greece, skiing off-piste in Scotland from an early age, immersing himself in the Chap Olympiad and following new acts from the Edinburgh Fringe to London. He was always thirsting for knowledge, travelling and reading widely. Time spent with him was never boring.

Alan had friends across the globe, and was a happily wicked uncle. He was a mentor to many and a role model for his artist recruits – micromanaging to the end, infuriatingly right on most occasions, able to pinpoint a situation and solve a problem often by sketching it out freehand.

He was one of the most brilliant people I knew. His charm and his ambition, not to mention his love of gadgets, would have been a match for James Bond and he was described as an “envisioner of dreams” by his friend Thomas Heatherwick, the designer. Alan left the bulk of his estate to the Alan Davidson charitable foundation, working with MND causes and supporting arts and architectural illustration projects.

He is survived by his wife, Elaine (nee Cowell), whom he married in 2016, and by his sister, Jane, a niece and two nephews.

Martha Wailes

The GuardianTramp

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