Tributes to Max

As was to be expected, tributes to Max have been pouring in from a wide range of people; those currently at Max Fordham, people who used to work with Max, and many of his external collaborators and friends.

While we can't publish them all here, we wanted to share a few to give a flavour of the sentiments being shared.

Thank you to everyone who has shared their memories, stories and tributes.

Ali Shaw, Principal Engineer on Max Fordham House and close friend of Max:

"It was the greatest pleasure spending time with Max in recent years, whether working as a pair of hands to translate his ideas into his new house, cycling in the rain or just chatting about thermodynamics.

I hope the house was enjoyable and embodied much of his thinking over the past few decades, and re-imagined Casper-II as a terraced mews house successfully.

The culture that he grew within the practice he created has inspired many engineers and continues to provide space for people to be curious whilst making the built environment better.

We’ve had some great conversations into the night over the last few years and I’ve loved every minute of them, whether insights into the world of twentieth century British modernism or long digressions into the microbiological origins of life on earth. Or the trade winds or igloos. Or entropy. The breadth of his interest was a joy while his good humour, generosity and humanitarianism will be part of his legacy as much as the engineering."

Phil Armitage, Senior Partner and long-time colleague of Max:

"I just want to say thank you for creating the remarkable organisation that bears your name. I know that it includes the valuable contributions of many able and committed people, but the context that you gave them is what still makes it special.

We worked together more and less closely over my time in the practice and I always admired and was inspired by the brilliance of your mind and the generosity of your spirit. You somehow managed to keep a youthful passion and set of ideals throughout your entire working life.

You helped to create so many lasting memories that were significant moments in people’s lives. I am fortunate to have so many, ranging from family parties in Suffolk and the office (that my now grown-up children still remember), through my formative days working on projects such as The Circle, and a long stint on the practice’s Management Group.

Friendly banter in your garden in Suffolk after a mostly cooked BBQ and food that everyone had brought, to the light of candles in jam jars hung from the trees and surrounded by the people in the practice and their families was magical.

I was always amazed at the generosity with which you gifted the practice on your retirement. Someone less generous would have taken much more from the multi-million pound business that it had become."

Alasdair Reid, Chair of the Managing Partners of Max Fordham LLP and long-time colleague of Max:

"Max was a true visionary and an inspiration to everyone who met him. As someone lucky enough to have worked alongside him, I will cherish the memories of scientific and philosophical debates, his eternal curiosity, unfailing humour, that wonderful laugh, and his generosity of spirit exemplified by the way he shared his practice with his colleagues. Max made work and engineering a lot of fun and I hope that the practice he established will continue to reflect his ethos and vision long into the future. Thank you, Max, for everything."

Sunand Prasad, Founder of Penoyre and Prasad and former RIBA President:

"He was a complete one-off and a huge inspiration. He brought lateral thinking to a field which you don’t usually associate with imagination. He was always innovating, always seeking.

He was so open, unassuming and humble and had a fantastic giggle. It was such a privilege to work with him.

Fordham was thinking about things like sealed buildings and the importance of preventing heat loss decades before it became an urgent topic, he added.

I remember him speculating on how windows in homes should be like car windows which seal as you wind them up.

As well as countless projects he created an atmosphere that inspired people to carry on his work, which is a great achievement. So many people passed through that atelier. Fortunately it prepared many for the challenge that’s before us now."

Peter Clegg, Co-Founder of FeildenCleggBradleyStudios:

"Max was one of the most influential people in my own architectural education and in the work of our practice. Indeed his influence was unsurpassed for a whole generation of engineers, but perhaps dare I say more importantly - of architects.

He taught us ‘sustainability’ at Cambridge long before the word became common currency and introduced building physics to the architectural curriculum. A big conceptual and philosophical thinker - combined with pragmatism unconstrained by convention - a belief that a good idea could always be practically resolved and realised.

When we started to work with Max Fordham back in the late 80s it was a real pleasure to find a practice where there was a real sense of design collaboration. I like to think that whole sequence of FCBS projects; the BRE building, Bedales Theatre, Heelis, the headquarters for the National Trust and the Woodland Trust and Worcester Hive were the result of a meeting of practice minds within a new discipline of architectural services engineering, where conceptual ideas were genuinely shared. Max’s own personal input to the concept design for Heelis, for instance was just as significant as ours - if not more so.

And then of course his philosophy of running a collaborative practice, derived amongst other influences from the radicalisation of a Dartington education, was also a great influence on our thinking when we set up what was to become FCBS.

There’s so much more to be said at such a significant passing, but we will always remember Max for his good humour and his delightful chuckle which will raise our spirits in these challenging times."

Sam Price, Co-Founder of Price and Myers:

"I knew Max for the whole of my working life, having first met him in the early 1960’s when he was working in the Arup Building Group, the forerunner of Arup Associates. He was designing the ventilation scheme for the conversion of Snape Maltings, helping to make it the best concert hall in the country. Some years later, when both he and I had started our own firms we found that we were often working together on projects. Our two firms had similar interests and grew at similar rates. We always knew that working with Max would be a bit unusual, and fun. In more recent years we both had cottages near Snape, and shared a love of that part of Suffolk. I remember a family picnic on Iken beach, Max on a surfboard, laughing, in shirt and trousers, the trousers rolled up a bit - none of the conventional kit for sailing. 

His approach to the design of building services was equally unconventional. He preferred the first principles, which of course was why he made such an impact on an industry that was at that time mainly concerned with the sizes of pipes and ducts. When interrupted by a question, when he was in full flow on the state of the universe, he would say, “Oh, you want to know the size of the duct do you?”, implying the feet of clay of the questioner, “I suppose it’s about two-foot diameter”. He was however quite able to deal with the details when necessary. He told me once that when he started his own practice and was doing a lot of house conversions, he could design and draw the whole scheme for a typical house in a day. 

But for Max the state of the universe was the interesting thing, and of course with the current imperative to find ways to save the planet, Max was in his element. He had a new house built for himself and his wife Taddy in the garden of his old house. The new one was built on Passivhaus principles, with lots of insulation and as airtight as possible. Some time after he had moved in, I asked him if it was working properly. He considered for a bit, and then said “No - not really”, but he never told me why. That was Max, always knowing that there was probably a better way of doing things."

Simon Allford, Co-Founder of AHMM and current RIBA President:

"The creation of a great building is a team game and during his long career, Max played his part brilliantly. He was a true visionary – a pioneer of sustainable design and engineering. He collaborated on projects across sectors – from housing estates to theatres and arts centres – helping to create a vast portfolio of exceptional buildings – Tate St Ives in Cornwall and the Alexandra Road Estate in London to name just a couple.

Max’s support for design, architecture and engineering earned him the lifetime honour of a RIBA Honorary Fellowship in 1992.

Having had the pleasure of knowing and working with him personally - and following his retirement, with his successors - I am very sad to hear of Max’s passing and share my condolences with his family, friends and all who knew him."

Justin Bere, Founder of bere:architects (and architect on Max Fordham House):

"I feel terribly saddened for Max and his family. It’s really shocking to think that he was cycling over here to Newington Green only five years ago in his mid-80s. He was deeply frustrated as his reasoning abilities declined, but despite this, he was still quite mentally agile.

It was a huge honour to know Max, and he was a great influence on me, as he was to many other architects.

Whether we were talking about planets and stars or about an engineering detail, Max would, if questioned or challenged, be capable of explaining his thinking in an inspiring way – right down to molecular foundations if necessary. That’s why he was so interesting and so convincing. Conversations never reached a limit. Nor were they narrow discussions, as he was fascinated by both the technical and the philosophical.

When we talked about condensing his ideas into a book, sadly too late in his life, he said that if there was one image that he would want to use to summarise his message, it would be a picture containing just two objects; mother-earth and the sun.

He explained: ‘Without the sun we are nothing. The energy that the sun gives us each day is really all we have. There’s nothing else, and we’d better work out how to get everything we need from whatever the sun gives us each day.' Then he went on to explain: 'Fossil fuels were laid down at the rate of 1 gram/second and are now being burnt at the rate of 500 tonnes per second. Yet we have the most enormous nuclear reactor in the sky giving us huge amounts of free energy. It is such a waste to use fossil fuels for heating.'

I can’t think of any clearer way of explaining the most important challenge facing humanity today."

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Max Fordham House