Paul Oliver (1927-2017) was a man of many interests and talents, an architectural historian and one of the world’s leading scholars of vernacular architecture, editing amongst his many publications the “Encyclopaedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World” (EVAW), now 20 years later in preparation for its 2nd edition, in which DW participates. He was also one of the world’s foremost authorities on the blues, and wrote some of the most authoritative histories of the genre, including the “Story of the blues” (1989).
Familiar already with his books – Shelter and Society (1969), Shelter in Africa (1971), to name two. Paul became a direct influence in 1973 at the Architectural Association, London, the year in which we - Farokh Afshar, Allan Cain and John Norton - founded Development Workshop.
He reviewed our joint AA thesis, on the “Potential of indigenous building in a developing country – Oman”, and whilst appreciating its thoroughness, tellingly asked the question: “Who is it aimed at?” adding that any such work “has to be comprehensible to the intended user”. We took this message to heart in our work and it has served us well in the very numerous and widespread vulnerable communities in which DW has worked.
Paul became an honorary member of DW France in 2000, and he and his wife and collaborator Val first visited DW’s office in rural south-west France to explain his ambitious EVAW project (to which we contributed). A subsequent visit was specifically to help us explore ideas about how we could record and pass on DW’s extensive legacy. The online archive project on DW’s work that is now becoming reality is one of the outcomes of his generosity in devoting time and energy to his erstwhile students thirty years on!
Paul has been a strong and inspiring influence on DW, but most of all, he was a delightful and insightful friend and is greatly missed.
See also one of his many obituaries at www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/aug/31/paul-oliver-obituary.
Allan Cain, John, Norton, Paul Oliver and Farokh Afshar.