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· Robin Nicholson

John Romer (1947 - 2015)

Cullinan Studio remembers our lovely Mr Tough and Gentle, John Romer.

Our friend and colleague John Romer, who has died aged 68 of cancer, was a partner at Cullinan Studio for 28 years. His passions embraced engineering, construction, art and architecture.

John leading the recycling of our old office shelf as a guerilla garden seat on the canal towpath outside our new office.

As Robin Nicholson writes for Guardian Other Lives: 

"John was born in Kingston-upon-Thames, south-west London, son of Sydney Romer, a civil servant, and his wife Dorothy (nee Voss), and went to Ridgeway school in Southborough, Kent, followed by Tunbridge Wells technical school. He studied civil engineering at the University of Surrey but after three years of setting out roundabouts for Higgs and Hill, he moved to London Transport.

Starting in the engineers department, John decided he really wanted to be an architect and signed up at the South Bank Polytechnic. There he met Ted Cullinan and his partners who were teaching as a team; four years study part-time and then a diploma at the Polytechnic of Central London was a long haul to master a second discipline, all the while working at London Transport where he moved across to the architects department. For the next six years he honed his skills with the architects Nicholas Lacey, DRU and Levitt Bernstein before knocking on the door of Cullinan Studio in Camden Town in 1987.

John worked and later led a wide range of projects. Developing the art of the timber gridshell with BuroHappold Engineering brought his two disciplines together; first, at the experimental Westminster Lodge at Hooke Park, Dorset, now part of the Architectural Association School of Architecture, and then at the much-loved, innovative Downland Gridshell in the Open Air Weald and Downland Museum at Singleton, a self-supporting double curved lattice. John also led the team that built the first phase of the Docklands Campus for the University of East London, the School and Health Centre at Greenwich Millennium Village and, more recently, a range of schools.

While fully engaged with us at Cullinan Studio as an architect, he was always keeping his hand in at Romer Engineering, on projects including Cullinan Studio’s 2012 retrofit of a Victorian warehouse into our energy efficient office, and also with other architects, Knox Bhavan and Charles Khoo, and the sculptor Rob Olins. And then there were all our own private house projects, where he would strengthen this or propose a better way of achieving that.

John was an enthusiastic and much loved teacher and mentor. He was expert at sorting issues out on the construction site “behind the bike shed”. He had a strong sense of public duty that led him to design an eye clinic for Help the Aged in Zanzibar and support RedR (engineers for disaster relief) for 30 years.

He is survived by his wife Laurance, whom he married in 1994, and their children, Lucien and Felix."