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Derek Phillips 1923 - 2013

8 November 2013 13.30 GMT

(UK) - Pioneer of lighting design and founder of dpa lighting consultants passes away on November 5th aged 90 years.

Architect Derek Phillips pioneered the discipline of independent lighting consultancy in the UK and has left his lighting design mark throughout the world. His work included the lighting of the SS Oriana in 1960, The Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong in 1963, Westminster Abbey in 1965, historic monuments of Sri Lanka as an UNESCO consultant in 1976, The Durbar Court/The Foreign Secretary's Office and Locarno Suite at The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London in the 1980's.

These are just a few of the numerous buildings Derek influenced with his passion for both natural and artificial light. His work as an author started early in his lighting career when McGraw-Hill asked him to write a book which he did, ‘Lighting in Architectural Design’ which was published in 1964.

Born in England, son of Reg and Ida Phillips, Derek spent his early childhood in India where his father worked for the Imperial Bank of India. At the age of nearly 5 he was sent back to England to St Dunstan's Prep School in Worthing and then at thirteen on to Haileybury College in Hertfordshire. Spending these long periods of time away from his parents, including some school holidays, greatly influenced his approach to parenting and when he became a father himself he spent as much time as possible with his own children.

On his 19th birthday in February 1942 he was called up to report to HMS St Vincent in Gosport where he served in the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy during World War II. Posted to Trinidad for training after only two months Derek and his best friend Tommy Morrison went up with an inexperienced pilot who lost control of the plane. They had to bail out and Derek was sadly the only one to survive. Posted back to the UK in 1943 he took up training to become part of the Navy's first Night Fighting Squadron. It was at this time through discussions with his Pilot Lieutenant Dennis Thornley, a qualified Architect and close friend; he was influenced to study architecture. Through his dialogues with Dennis Derek contemplated his future after the Navy and a career in architecture seemed to combine both art which he already enjoyed and science which he felt he should know more about.

Derek took the opportunity of an educational release and obtained a place at Liverpool to study architecture. Whilst at Liverpool Derek met and married Diana Hesketh in 1952 and they subsequently had five children - Starkie, Adam, Rebecca, Jemima and Amelia. Sadly Starkie died in 2002, and Derek's wife and soul mate Diana died earlier this year. He also had many grandchildren and put great value on his family.

Derek gained a First Class Honours in Architecture at Liverpool and was then encouraged to apply for a Commonwealth Fund Fellowship which he was granted to study Daylighting and Architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

When arriving at MIT he discussed his aspiration to study the daylighting of cities with Dean Anderson, who told him that they did not know anything about daylighting so he started a research programme on artificial lighting, which is where his career as a lighting consultant really emanated from. Derek met Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier and both these great architects discussed the importance of light in their work, this further excited and encouraged Derek to focus his career in this field.

When returning from MIT in 1954 positions in architecture were restricted, so Derek took the opportunity to start work with the lighting manufacturer, British Thompson Houston (BTH) Company, where he spent 4 years. Towards the end of his time with BTH he was asked to design the lighting for the British Exhibition in the Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, but was restricted to only using BTH products which Derek found unacceptable to him. He therefore set up his own Practice in 1958 - Derek Phillips Associates and practiced as both architect and lighting consultant, this subsequently became dpa lighting consultants and the practice focused on lighting design.

Derek was a real pioneer, lighting consultancy as a professional discipline divorced from the commercial influences of supplying equipment was an unknown entity. He believed passionately in providing the best advice possible for his clients and the practice motto was a quotation from Christie of Glyndebourne, "not to be satisfied with the best you can do but to do the best that can be done". Derek made great friends with American lighting designer Howard Brandston, who influenced his work a lot. Derek worked in collaboration with Howard on projects in Europe and the Middle East in the early days of the practice and remained great friends throughout his life.

Derek gave his time freely to lecture and help educate young designers, clients, other professionals and anyone that was interested and passionate about light in all forms. Following his 1964 publication Lighting in Architectural Design, he wrote another book "Lighting" for the British Design Council which demonstrated the principles and planning of home lighting and was published in 1966. He believed education to be extremely important and participated with numerous institutions and their activities. He delivered the inaugural Waldram Lecture in 1990 and titled it "City Lights", the influence of his time at MIT was still resonating on throughout his career.

He was Chairman of Hertfordshire Association of Architects, RIBA Council Member, and President of the Illuminating Engineering Society and Vice President of the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD), to which Derek was made a Fellow in 2001 and received the highest honour of a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.

Derek was also hardworking and industrious, when work was slow in the UK economy in the early 1980's, rather than just wait for things to get better he set up an office in Hong Kong where the practice thrived working on important projects in the territory and mainland China. Projects included refurbishing The Mandarin Oriental Hotel that he had originally worked on in the 1960's, the Academy for Performing Arts and the Macau Ferry Terminal as well as many others.

Derek retired in 1993 but his passion for lighting did not cease, he was the author of four books on the subject as well as his autobiography and attended many industry events. His other passions also continued sailing, his dogs and most importantly his family. Derek's friendly personality and generosity of time for anyone who was interested in lighting was a great gift that we can all learn from.

Derek is survived by four of his children Adam, Rebecca, Jemima and Amelia, twelve grandchildren and was excited about the forthcoming birth of his first great-grandchild.

Derek Phillips FRIBA FCIBSE Honoury Fellow SLL MILE FIALD M.Arch B.Arch MCD

24th February 1923 - 5th November 2013


Derek Phillips IALD
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