The unforgettable Professor Charles McKean

Posted by on Oct 1, 2013 in Building Surveying

The unforgettable Professor Charles McKean

Professor Charles McKean (16 July 1946 – 29 September 2013)  first came to my attention in the 1980s when, as Director of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland he was quoted as making disparaging remarks about building surveyors who he described as an “English import”.  I was busily promoting the profession in Scotland at the time having previously worked in England.  The few building surveyors that existed in Scotland then were, in the main, quantity surveyors who had strayed into some limited contract administration/project management.  As they were beholden to architects for much of their business they would never have dreamed of upsetting them by producing drawings, even if they could.  So the cosy synergy between architects and Quantity Surveyors continued.  Although born and raised in Edinburgh I had cut my teeth on refurbishing Byelaw terrace houses and converting big houses into flats in Liverpool.  Previously architects had been employed for this work and were utterly hopeless at it.  In the 1970s the building surveying profession had emerged to plug this gap.

So when, many years later, I was invited to join the Buildings Committee of the National Trust for Scotland, chaired by Charles McKean I confess to having had some residual hostility to the man!  The National Trust for Scotland was a source of pride to my profession, as the work of building conservation was largely carried out by a staff of building surveyors.  It appeared to me that the purpose of the committee was to promote architects over building surveyors.  I was not going to have any of it.

It was not long before I discovered that Charles McKean was a human being and a very kind and entertaining person.  In addition his knowledge and understanding of Scottish architectural history was a revelation to me and his boundless enthusiasm and outspoken views on just about everything lit up every room he entered.  We soon buried our differences and I became more and more respectful of architectural talent and he became a nurturer and supporter of building surveyors.

We subsequently worked together on a number of interesting old houses where his insight and erudition helped us to understand what we were working with.  I can hardly believe that I will never bump into him again in the street and be regaled with “Everything that has ever been written about …. Castle is nonsense.  They’ve got it completely wrong. It is in fact a fine example of …. “

David Gibbon, RICS Conservation Accredited Building Surveyor