Richard Seifert: The Architect of Twentieth Century London

Eds – we are pleased to welcome back our library colleague and regular contributor to HeadLines, James Youle. His passion for art and architecture is reflected in the articles he writes for this ezine which, in turn, contain references to relevant material in our own library collections. In this issue James considers the contribution of architect, Richard Seifert, to the London skyline, and we were delighted to find a film clip of some of his buildings on the British Pathe Film Archive… 

Colonel Richard Seifert (1910-2001) was the most successful, prolific and controversial architect of twentieth century Britain.

As head of Richard Seifert & Partners, no other architect since Christopher Wren has done more to change the face of London and the City of London. He even credited the Wren churches as an early architectural inspiration when he was a boy at the Central Foundation School in the City of London.

His buildings were at times modernist, brutalist, postmodernist and neo-vernacular, but at all times they were Forceful with a capital F.


© Copyright Stephen Richards and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Richard Seifert estimated that he had designed over 1000 buildings; around 600 were in The City and in London and its environs. At the height of his fame in the 1960’s barely a day went by without a request to design a building, a torrent he was “bewildered” by.

I was christened in the Wren church of St Clement Danes, and I in turn have been inspired by the buildings of Richard Seifert. It was going to that church that I must have noticed my first Seifert building, Woolworth House (built circa 1955) on Marylebone Road. As a boy I attended Wembley Conference Centre (c1977) for the National Youth Orchestra, visited the NatWest Tower (c1971-80), and visited my grandmother at the Clementine Churchill Hospital (c1980) at Harrow-on-the-Hill. I visited his Royal Garden Hotel Kensington (c1965) and gazed up at his Drapers Gardens (c1967) and Kings Reach (c1972) towers from the Thames.


© Copyright Stephen Richards and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

As an adult working at The British Museum I would have a drink at Centre Point (c1963-66) and buy my lunch in its shadow. On 07/07/2005 I was at his Euston Station (c1974-78) and after ‘power surges’ decided not to take a bus to Bloomsbury, but to walk instead. I was in the Round Reading Room when I heard a bus from Euston explode.

As this is a personal appreciation, I have listened to four hours of interviews he gave in 1996 to The British Library National Sound Archive (NSA), for their Architects Lives collection. He was one of ten children and in 1928 entered the Bartlett School of Architecture at UCL. He was not an academic student, and was distracted from study by playing rugby, chess and violin for the university. He later said that he was so successful as an architect due to his commercial mind and sociability. To be truly successful he said that an architect had to be a “creator, technologist, lawyer, cost controller, sociologist,
administrator, and conservationist” (NSA).


© Copyright Keith Edkins and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

In the 1930s as a junior architect he was earning only £3 per house for housing estates in suburbs like Dollis Hill; life was a struggle. The Second World War got in the way, but also presented new opportunities. He served during and after the war in the Royal Engineers and the Fourteenth Army, and left not only with the title ‘Colonel Seifert’ but also with “self-confidence” and a “sense of leadership and control”. After severe bombing in London, Seifert was well placed to begin changing the capital’s skyline. He would arrive at his office before 7am and work well into the evenings. Attired in a dark pin stripe suit, wearing spectacles and smoking a pipe, he toured construction sites in his Rolls Royce, even on a Saturday.

He was devoted to his wife Josephine, his children and his grandchildren. He lived in the same home in Mill Hill from 1946 until his death, demolishing neighbouring houses to create a three acre garden, and treasuring a 400
year old Mulberry tree.


© Copyright Stephen Richards and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

He called the NatWest Tower “the most important one of the lot”, and it is a building that greatly resembles him, with its sleek black glass and granite, and polished steel vertical ribs. This magnificent 600 foot tower was opened by The Queen in 1981; at the time it was the tallest cantilevered building in the world, and the tallest tower in the UK. At the opening, NatWest Chairman Robin Leigh-Pemberton said to Her Majesty that neither the bank nor Colonel Seifert had aspirations to reach Heaven.

Richard Seifert died at 90 years of age in 2001.

Centre Point, Space House (c1964-68) and Alpha Tower (c1970-72) have all been listed, with Centre Point described as having “elegance worthy of a Wren steeple”. Space House and Alpha Tower were featured earlier this year in the Historic England blog, Heritage Calling.

James Youle
Senior Information Assistant,
The Sir Duncan Rice Library

Eds. We have information guides and a number of interesting works in our collections that provide more information about Seifert.


To find a clip of Seifert’s buildings on the Primo record for the British Pathé Film Archive, make sure the View Online tab is open and enter ‘Seifert’ in the search box. You will be provided with a link to the film clip.



A link to the British Pathe Film Archive can be found on Primo.

The British Pathe Film Archive offers previews of 3500 hours of news, sport, social history and entertainment from 1896 to 1978.




A Library Guide, QG HCOL014 Architectural resources in Special Collections (Andrew MacGregor, December 2014) contains a link to the Dictionary of Scottish Architects in which you can read more about the Scottish buildings by Richard Seifert, Partners, and his son, John. See the Dictionary of Scottish Architects for basic biographical details.

The Library holds three books featuring Seifert’s buildings:

Food and drink policy update from Diane Bruxvoort

I am pleased to report that the new food and drink policy being piloted in each of the library buildings is going exceedingly well. The new policy allows library users to have coffee and other drinks in the library in a covered container, and to eat their cold lunch and snacks in the libraries. Rubbish and recycling bins have been added throughout the public spaces and we are pleased that our students, public and academic users are taking advantage of the new policies and keeping the buildings clean.

no-hot-foodYou may not be surprised to learn that hot food continues to be an issue. In this pilot we continued with the prohibition on hot food, but may not have been clear enough. So we are clarifying our signage and asking for your adherence to the no hot food policy. With the success of the pilot to date we hope to be able to transition to a permanent allowance of drinks and snacks, and don’t want the issue of hot food to complicate the decision.

We will soon move to 24/7 hours for revision and exams, and the libraries will be full to bursting. Your assistance in keeping our libraries in great condition for all users is much appreciated. We welcome your input on these and any other issues as we work to make the libraries a creative and welcoming environment for all.

Diane Bruxvoort
University Librarian and Director of Library Special Collections and Museums
University of Aberdeen

The Sir Duncan Rice Library hosts Pit Stop Challenge

Pit Stop Challenge in The Sir Duncan Rice LibraryHow quickly can you change the tyre on a Formula 1 racing car? This was the challenge presented to participants at the Pit Stop Challenge event held recently in The Sir Duncan Rice Library. The event was organised by the Careers Service to highlight Shell’s Technical Partnership with Ferrari which began over 60 years ago.

The pit stop challenge recreated the drama, excitement and teamwork of an F1 pit stop. Team members were timed as they changed the wheels on a full scale Ferrari F1 car under race conditions. Around 450 students were involved in the event during the day, and over 180 students tried their hand at changing the formula one tyres. A number of staff were also involved.

Students who participated in the challenge received a commemorative Ferrari glass and some other Shell goodies. The winning time was 2.39secs.

The Careers Service works closely with Shell on a number of on-campus initiatives including recruitment events, employability initiatives, and general brand awareness campaigns. See the Careers Service website for careers advice and guidance, jobs and events.

Sir Duncan Rice bust honours former Principal

Sir Duncan Rice with Alexander Stoddart, Lady Rice and bust

Sir Duncan Rice with Alexander Stoddart, Lady Rice and bust

A bronze bust of Sir Duncan Rice, has been unveiled in the ground floor atrium of the magnificent library which bears his name.

The bronze bust is the gift of a group of benefactors, and has been created  by leading Scottish portrait sculptor, Alexander Stoddart, Sculptor in Ordinary to The Queen in Scotland…The artwork was unveiled by Lady Susan Rice at a reception attended by leading supporters and benefactors to the University.

Extracts from a news item issued by the Communications Team. Read the item in full.

Kathleen Kennedy and William Cavendish: A wartime wedding of two dynasties

Ed.- James Youle has been a Senior Information Assistant with University of Aberdeen libraries since 2007. He has a particular interest in twentieth century British art and photography. He tries to find images that offer an insight into the human being and regularly offers photographs to the National Portrait Gallery.

I recently donated two photographs to The National Portrait Gallery. They depict the 6th May 1944 wedding of William “Billy” Cavendish and Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy. Kathleen had arrived in London in 1938 as the daughter of American Ambassador Joseph P Kennedy and had quickly fallen in love with London and England, and later with Billy. In July 1943 she had written to her brother “Jack” (later President) Kennedy:

“I have just returned from a day and a half spent in the country with Billy at Eastbourne… For 24 hours I forgot all about the war… Billy is just the same, a bit older, a bit more ducal, but we get on as well as ever.”

The Marquess of Hartington, as Billy was titled, is dressed in his Coldstream Guards uniform, and the new Marchioness is in pink with a posy of pink camellias brought from Chatsworth in Derbyshire that very morning. Both look happy, but the path to the altar had been fraught. Billy was a Protestant and heir to the Duke of Devonshire. The American Kennedy family were Catholic, and Kathleen’s parents Joseph and Rose were particularly unhappy at the union. Only her brother Lieutenant Joseph Kennedy Jr attended, along with Billy’s family.

Kathleen wrote of Joe in 1944, “Moral courage he had in abundance… in every way he was the perfect brother…”.

Tragically both Joe and Billy died in 1944 on active service, Joe in Suffolk and Billy in Belgium. Kathleen was devastated but made a life for herself with the support of the Duke and Duchess, but in May 1948 she also died tragically. Rose Kennedy in her autobiography wrote of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire:

“They said how much they had loved Kathleen, and how grateful they had been to her because of the happiness she had brought to their son Billy. The Duchess suggested the epitaph ‘Joy she gave, and joy she has’.”

Kathleen was buried at Chatsworth.

James Youle
Senior Information Assistant


The two photographs donated by James can be viewed here on the National Portrait Gallery website.

Eds. Several books about the Kennedy family are available in the Library collections. Here are some suggestions if you are interested in reading more:

Dallek, R. (c.2003) An unfinished life : John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963. Boston [Mass.] ; London : Little Brown.
Shelfmark 973.922 Ken D (Floor 3, The Sir Duncan Rice Library)

Kennedy, R.F. (1974) Times to remember : an autobiography. London : Collins.
Shelfmark 973.9 Ken (Floor 3, The Sir Duncan Rice Library)

Schwarz, T. (c.2003) Joseph P. Kennedy : the mogul, the mob, the statesman, and the making of an American myth. Hoboken, N.J. : John Wiley & Sons.
Shelfmark 973.9 Ken S (Floor 3, The Sir Duncan Rice Library)

EXAMS: Use our collection of past exam papers for your own future success

To help you prepare for the fast approaching exams we would like to remind you about the online collection of past exam papers managed by the Library. exam2

There are well over 3000 past exam papers available in Word or PDF format in our searchable database, covering undergraduate and taught postgraduate courses from across the University’s three Colleges. You can either search for specific courses or browse your way towards those past papers you need. You will need to login with your University username and password to access the exam papers.

We do not have every past exam paper available on DigiTool so, if you can’t find an exam paper for a particular course, you will need to check with the relevant School to see if they can provide you with a copy.

The exam papers are stored on DigiTool, the University’s digital asset management system where you can also access many other resources such as photographs from our George Washington Wilson Collection, or even digital versions of illuminated manuscripts.

Also, don’t forget that library staff are here to help you locate any other resources you may need while preparing for your exams. If you have any questions please just ask a member of Library staff.

Good luck with your exams from all staff at the Library.

Ewan Grant
Information Adviser


Library Guides online:
How to find past exam papers

The Student Learning Service offers workshops on revision strategies and exam techniques.

Lots of good reading in our latest issue of HeadLines

The latest issue of our ezine is packed full of interesting features.

Read more about iAberdeen – the University app for smartphones where you can go to search Primo and access your library account to view and renew loans. There is news of a new initiative that gives students an opportunity to suggest books for purchase. Read the feature on the Gale Reference Library which now gives access to 600 online publications across 18 subject areas, including Art, Education, Environment, History, Law, Literature, Religion, Science and Technology. Then there are accounts from researchers about their work based on LSC&M resources.

Headlines – the ezine from Library, Special Collections and Museums – it’s worth a read!



A new issue of HeadLines now online!

New library "topping out"

University Librarian Chris Banks at the new library "topping out" ceremony


A message from Chris Banks …

“This time last year we’d just celebrated the ground breaking for the new library and this issue goes to press just a few days after the topping out ceremony. Last year I sported a hard hat; this time it’s a shovel! And this time next year we’ll be up and running in the new building. This bumper issue of HeadLines has something for everyone…”


Issue 6 of our ezine HeadLines is available at

We hope you enjoy the read.

Documentation Team
Library & Historic Collections