Ken Taylor obituary | Architecture


My friend Ken Taylor, who has died of cancer aged 61, had a passion for culture in its broadest sense and, although he trained and practised as an architect, he contributed equally meaningfully as an artist and curator.

The completion of Quay House, a joint development with his wife, Julia Manheim, in 2002, marked them out as a pioneering force in the burgeoning cultural regeneration of Peckham, south London. What was originally a redundant milk depot at 2c King’s Grove was transformed over a four-year construction programme into a flexible live/work studio with three bespoke apartments and the m² Gallery. The gallery was conceived as a vitrine measuring 1 metre square and could be viewed 24 hours a day by anyone who happened to be passing by.

This notion of “giving something back to the street” was fuelled by a commitment to collaborative social arts projects which in turn led to Ken’s appointment as a trustee and chair of Artpoint (a visual arts and crafts agency based in Oxford).

Quay House, a development in Peckham, south London, by Ken Taylor, that opened in 2002.
Quay House, a development in Peckham, south London, by Ken Taylor, that opened in 2002. Photograph: Anthony Coleman

Ken’s belief in architecture’s ability to transform lives was self-evident and teaching afforded him a means to connect with a younger generation of aspiring architects. He taught architecture for 30 years at various institutions ranging from Oxford Brookes University to the Bartlett school of architecture at University College London.

Ken was born in Glasgow, and his family moved to Birmingham when he was nine. He was one of three children of Ralph Taylor, who worked in pensions, and Rosemary (nee Gemmell), a dinner lady at Riland Bedford high school (now Plantsbrook school), where Ken was a pupil. His interest in architecture was sparked by formative visits to Birmingham’s brutalist “new” library (now demolished), designed by John Madin, which opened in 1974.

The first in his family to embrace further education, Ken enrolled at Leeds Polytechnic school of architecture in 1978. After graduating he worked initially as a freelance architect before setting up his own multi-disciplinary design practice, Quay 2c Limited, in London in 2000.

He was fiercely intelligent, cultured, urbane, well read, endlessly creative, kind and generous. He amassed an extensive international network of friends and, being more analogue than digital in his approach to life, worked assiduously to maintain these links. He met Julia in 1994 at a Friday night after-work drinks gathering in the Sekforde Arms in Clerkenwell. They were an amazing couple who made amazing things happen – real things that people could see and appreciate and sense were made with conviction, integrity and a strong sense of social justice.

Ken was a prolific photographer and subscribed to Jasper Johns’ maxim: “Events occur without permission.” His “snaps” eventually formed the basis of several exhibitions and 10 postcard albums.

His diagnosis of oesophageal cancer, only a few months before his death, shocked his friends and family.

He is survived by Julia, whom he married in 2010, his twin sister, Fiona, his younger sister, Barbara, and his father.



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