Born Margaret Brown in Fort William, her father was a civil engineer and his work on hydro-electric projects meant that the family led a nomadic life moving from project to project around Scotland. Margaret and her two her brothers, David and Gavin, spent their childhood during the war years in Newtonmore – Margaret loved her time there. She worked hard at school and developed a lifelong love of reading.
Following her father’s appointment to a position in London, she enrolled in the Kingston School of Architecture at the age of 16. This was the beginning of a life dedicated to architecture, upholding the principles of a clear and elegant way of seeing and providing the value of design to solve problems for clients.
After graduating in 1952, she worked for two years as an architect with Powell & Moya in London where she was the job architect for one of the slab blocks of the Pimlico Project housing development in Westminster.
In October 1954, Margaret joined Robert Matthew’s newly established private practice in Edinburgh (later Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall & Partners). She was allocated to Scottish projects, including Turnhouse Airport Terminal (1954-6) and the design of Crombie Hall for the University of Aberdeen (1955-60).
In May 1958, Margaret married her co-worker John Richards. Following their wedding, they spent six months traveling around Europe, taking part in archaeological excavations in Crete with three months at the British School in Rome. On their return, Margaret worked part time at RMJM and was involved in projects such as the 1957 competition scheme for Leith Fort, and the 1959 competition entry for Churchill College, Cambridge.
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Margaret and John’s first child Alan was born in 1959, followed by Kate, Lucy and Jessica. Margaret rejoined RMJM, working part time while the children were young. It is interesting that all the Richards’ offspring pursued creative careers, with Alan becoming an architect, Kate a landscape architect, Lucy a graphic designer and Jessica a theater manager.
Along with being the center of an active family life, Margaret somehow managed to set up a practice on her own account in 1964 and later worked as an associate in the John Richards Associates practice. Since 1978 she was a tutor in architectural conservation at Edinburgh College of Art.
Margaret was a council member of the Scottish Special Housing Association and a member of the Cases Panel and the National Committee of the AHSS. A founding trustee and former Chair of the Lothian Building Preservation Trust, she served on the Historic Buildings Council for Scotland, the Advisory Committee on Artistic Matters of the Church of Scotland, and on the International Committee for Training of ICOMOS. She also sat on Historic Scotland’s Steering Group for the Dictionary of Scottish Architects.
In the early 1980s Margaret and John moved out of Edinburgh to rural life in Whitekirk, East Lothian, and for many years they both played an active part taking care of the ancient and historic church, and enjoyed a thriving village life with the local community.
In 2014 Margaret was awarded the RIAS Lifetime Achievement Award for her ‘outstanding contribution to architecture’.
Margaret led a long, rich and interesting life. As the main keeper of the family culture, she is remembered with love by her brother de ella Gavin, her four children, six grandchildren, three great grandchildren, other family members, as well as a wide network of friends and colleagues.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.