Charles McKean, 1946-2013

A passionate and outspoken advocate for Scottish architecture has died

November 7, 2013

Charles McKean was born in Glasgow on 16 July 1946, and educated partly at Fettes College in Edinburgh. He spent a year at the University of Poitiers before earning an undergraduate degree at the University of Bristol (1968).

He worked for many years in architectural journalism, editing London Architect (1970-75) and then moving to The Times (1977-83) and Scotland on Sunday (1988-90) as architectural correspondent. In parallel with this, he served from 1979 to 1994 as chief executive of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS).

It was not until 1995, therefore, that Professor McKean secured an academic position, as head of the School of Architecture at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, part of the University of Dundee. Two years later, he was appointed professor (later emeritus professor) of Scottish architectural history in the history department.

Well before he came to work at the university, however, Professor McKean had become fascinated by the neglected architecture of Dundee and was determined to restore a city often dismissed as an eyesore to its rightful place “on the northern European stage where it used to be”. To raise awareness among both locals and outsiders, he led hundreds of walking tours and, in 2012, was given an Honorary Stephen Fry Award for public engagement. He also distilled his insights into books including Dundee: An Illustrated Introduction (with David Walker, 1984), Lost Dundee: Dundee’s Lost Architectural Heritage (with Patricia Whatley, 2008) and Dundee: 1600-1800 (2010).

Committed to the conservation of Scotland’s Art Deco buildings long before the cause became fashionable, Professor McKean took on a number of prominent roles in this area. He served as chairman of the Edinburgh board for the World Heritage Trust from 2006 to 2012.

But although he loved wandering around the city and argued that international funding was needed to help preserve Edinburgh’s Old Town, he attracted considerable controversy with his contention that the city often presented an unnecessarily unfriendly face to tourists.

In addition to writing a series of illustrated architectural guides to Scottish cities for the RIAS, Professor McKean was the author of The Scottish Chateau: The Country House of the Scottish Renaissance (2001). In 2011, he succeeded former Liberal Party leader Lord Steel of Aikwood as president of the Scottish Castles Association.

Professor McKean died of cancer on 29 September and is survived by his wife Margaret and two sons.

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