Elected RSA: 4 October 2006
Kathryn Findlay RSA(Elect)(1953-2014) was born in Finavon, the daughter of an Angus sheep farmer. A visit to Glasgow School of Art in her formative years inspired her to study architecture.
She studied in London, graduating from the Architectural Association in 1976 (along with contemporary Zaha Hadid) before departing for Japan where she spent 20 years teaching and working, becoming the first female academic in the department of architecture at Tokyo University and the first foreigner to teach there since Londoner Josiah Conder, known as "the father of Japanese modern architecture’, in the 19th century. While in Japan, she worked with ArataIsozaki, the architect behind the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the Shenzhen Cultural Center in China, before founding Ushida Findlay Architects with her then-husband Eisaku Ushida.
Their buildings were original and expressionist in design. The Soft and Hairy House (1994), was inspired by their client's fascination with Salvador Dali, while the earlier Truss Wall House (1993) was a continuous curved-form building more than a decade before that idea became fashionable in architecture.
Kathryn once described her design process as the equivalent of a worm eating through an apple. She returned to Scotland in 1999 to teach at Dundee University. Ushida Findlay continued to design and their architectural originality was recognised when plans for a starfish-shaped home in Cheshire won a RIBA competition.
But the practice went out of business in 2004 before it was built. There convened Ushida Findlay practice was based in London but worked in Japan, the UK and the Middle East on projects ranging from a Teletubby Museum in Stratford to a state school in south London, a culture and amenity hall in the Gifu Prefecture, Japan, to a beach palace for the wife of the Emir in Doha.
In 2009, a design for a pool-house combining glass walls and a thatched roof that was hailed as the practice's comeback project. Kathryn was invited to the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2004, became Associate Professor of Architecture at Tokyo University and was a Visiting Professor of Architecture at UCLA in 1999 and at Technical University in Vienna in 2011.
Her practice also played a key part in realising the architectural elements of the artist Anish Kapoor's Arcelor Mittal Orbit, the spiralling tower that rose up beside the Olympic Stadium in London for London 2012. She was also made an Honorary Professor at the University of Dundee and received a fellowship from the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) in Edinburgh. In 2007, Kathryn Findlay was the first female architect to be elected to the Royal Scottish Academy.
RSA Obituary, transcribed from the 2015 RSA Annual Catalogue