About Bryan Keith Thomas, A.R.I.B.A. A.A.Dipl. (Hons) - 28 Nov 1928 to 19th Dec 2023
Bryan enjoyed a long career as an architect and designed so many iconic buildings in his lifetime
This eulogy was written by James Dodds
About local architect Bryan Thomas, A.R.I.B.A. A.A.Dipl. (Hons) who died on the 19th December 2023 aged 95. In his long career, he designed so many distinctive buildings.
Born in India and studied architecture in London
Bryan was born in India in 1928, the son of Reginald Thomas (an engineer posted in India) and Ruth Rowley (daughter of Rowley Gallery art deco furniture makers). He attended Prep School in Felixstowe and Secondary School in Darjeeling, having been sent back to India during the Second World War with his younger brother, Colin.
Bryan trained at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London from 1945-1950. Following National Service in the RAF, he worked with several London architects (including David Stern, Wells Coates and Michael Lyell). A summer in Copenhagen left a lasting impression on Bryan – Danish purity of design was a life-long influence.
Established an architectural practice in Colchester in 1957
In 1957 Bryan set up his architectural practice in Colchester, Essex. The practice was very busy throughout the 1960s designing iconic private houses in the area. Clients ranged from a Lay and Wheeler wine merchant to doctors in Colchester and Brightlingsea, a barrister, at Fordham Heath, clergy in Gt Bromley, teachers at Polstead and an artist in Great Bentley. Following some alteration work to a house in Bakers Lane, Colchester in 1957 the owner, an ‘Apple Farmer’, commissioned a new house in Elmstead Market to be designed by Bryan. The orchard later turned into the world famous garden created by the ‘farmer’s wife’ Beth Chatto. This building (completed in 1960) may soon become listed, something Bryan would have been very proud to have seen. A revolutionary house with a curved roof he designed in Stanway was demolished just before being listed.
Many of Bryan’s designs were built on sloping ground. Entering the building at first floor level, the split level space would then open out into an open plan room creating views within the building, with large windows and views out into the landscape, a house in harmony with its landscape. Bryan was a master of getting light into a building and organising space, he paid attention to detail, even designing the kitchens.
Bryan also designed schools, churches and more
Bryan’s practice also designed schools, Anglican and Christian Scientist churches, community centres, a Quaker meeting room and two buildings in Essex University. The largest of Bryan’s churches stands in Alresford where during the 1970s he designed and built two ‘upside-down’ houses for himself. Here, bedrooms on the ground floor and living rooms on the first floor took full advantage of the views across fields to the river Colne. Bryan delighted in and celebrated natural material materials, using wood, stone, brick and clay tiles in his buildings.
Bryan went into partnership with Graham Macnamara in Alma House in Alma Street, Wivenhoe and has lived in three houses in the town: the Old Apothecary which he remodelled, a new-build called Mudflats and finally remodelling Ferry House.
More than an architect
Bryan did not limit himself to buildings. He enjoyed music, jazz and classical and played the piano. He rebuilt a traditional Brightlingsea sailing smack and later built a large catamaran in which he and his family crossed the North Sea many times. His creative writing was important to him as he got older, and he was pleased to win several prizes and be included in anthologies.
Bryan did not retire from architecture until the age of 91. In later life, he remodelled and converted numerous houses in the Wivenhoe and revisited several of his original buildings to extend and upgrade. Several people have told me about what a good team my mother Wendy and Bryan made. Bryan’s skills at organising space and Wendy a master of getting to the nub of the client’s domestic needs. Bryan also worked up the concept of other striking Wivenhoe buildings which were then passed on to Laurie Wood Associates to complete, for example the Sentinel Gallery and two houses in the De Vere Close, Wivenhoe.
Featured on Channel 4
Bryan was somewhat perturbed when in 2020 his house for a GP and his family in Colchester (built 1961), featured on Channel 4 as the baddy in the series Ugly House/Lovely House. He was delighted at the number of people who contacted him afterwards to say that they preferred his original design! A beautiful house on Fingringhoe marshes also featured in the programme as a good example of how to add and up date a classic 1960 house by Bryan the original architect.
Bryan leaves a considerable legacy
I have lived in and helped build several of Bryan’s buildings, and would say firstly that his designs respond to the landscape around them, making full use of natural materials. With his attention to detail the structures are designed from the inside out, his ingenious use of space and light make them exciting, enjoyable and functional to live in.
Bryan outlived his first wife Pauline and second wife Wendy. He passed away aged 95. He leaves behind four sons and four step children, fourteen grand children and two great grand children.
By James Dodds (stepson)
1st February, 2024