Award-winning architect and former RIBA president dies aged 87

Tributes have poured in for the architect Michael Manser who has died aged 87.

Manser, who was president of the RIBA when Prince Charles made his notorious “carbuncle” speech, died on Wednesday morning after suffering a stroke on Monday.

He was a modernist who was perhaps best known for his private houses such as Capel Manor House in Kent which was listed in 2013.

But he had a wide-ranging international output and other key buildings include the British High Commission in Dar es Salaam, the British Council in Karachi, Waterlooville Baptist Church in Hampshire, the Queen’s Suite at Heathrow and, most famously of all, the Hilton Hotel at Heathrow Terminal 4, JG Ballard’s favourite building.

He was described as the “godfather of the profession” by leading property agent David Rosen, an honorary RIBA fellow.

Jane Duncan, current president of the RIBA, tweeted: “Michael was a charming man, a wonderful president and a generous supporter of young talent. We will miss him.”

And Chris Loyn, whose practice Loyn & Co won the Manser Medal in 2014, tweeted: “It was a pleasure to meet him and an honour to receive an award in his name.”

Manser, who studied at what became the University of Westminster, set up his own firm, now known as The Manser Practice, in 1960.

He was non-executive chairman until his death and was regularly coming into the office advising on projects until about a year ago.

His son Jonathan Manser, who now runs the practice and who spent 20 years working alongside him, said he had been touched by all the messages he had received.

Many of these described his father as a principled and straightforward architect and a champion of the profession, he said, as well as a kind man who always made time to encourage young architects.

He established the Manser Medal in 2001, which continues today as the RIBA House of the Year, presented during the Stirling Prize ceremony.  

One of Manser’s first projects was his own family home, Golden Grove House, where Jonathan and his sister Victoria, also an architect, grew up immersed in architecture.

“My mother was an architectural journalist so there wasn’t much else to talk about at home,” said Jonathan. “We spent our holidays traipsing round Ronchamp and modernist buildings around the world. We didn’t know there was anything else you could do until it was too late.”

He recalled his father’s self-deprecating sense of humour in which any disasters at home or at work were turned into jokes told against himself.

“All his best stories were things that had gone wrong,” said Jonathan. “He didn’t take himself too seriously which may not have furthered his career but made him a nicer man.”

His stint as RIBA president was eventful. His inauguration in 1984 was attended by Margaret Thatcher which Manser described as a “huge fillip”.

That same year the Prince of Wales gave the speech to mark the RIBA’s 150th anniversary, at the dinner to present Charles Correa with the RIBA Gold Medal. Infamously he used the platform to launch an attack on the architectural profession.

Michael was left to fight a rear-guard action and was disillusioned by the way many architects responded to the furore, said Jonathan.

“A lot of architects jumped on the bandwagon, agreeing with the prince,” he said.

“He was disappointed that architects individually were so self-seeking and unable to act in unison to achieve something for the common good.”