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We say goodbye to our founding Partner

Jack Oberlander (1927-2024) – a tribute

Jack new


Philip Macdonald, Managing Partner


25 February 2024

We are sad to share news of the death of Jack Oberlander - our founding Partner

We are saddened to announce that Jack Oberlander FRIBA, the founding Partner of our Practice, passed away at the age of 96 years on 5 February 2024.

Jack founded the practice of Oberlander Associates Architects in August 1983, with David Lawson as his partner. Initially, the practice operated from his house at 420 Ferry Road, Edinburgh, but soon moved, in 1985, to renovated premises at 43 S.W. Thistle Street Lane in the city centre. He continued to develop the practice until his retirement in 1992. The practice continued as Oberlanders Architects under his fellow Partners David Lawson and Ian Low.

As a practice, we have much to thank Jack for. His listening approach to Client’s requirements ensured efficient buildings and contributed to the development of the practice values that we hold today.

Jack was born, with his twin sister Joan, in 1927, in Maymyo, Burma; where his American father was working as a lead smelting engineer. Jack returned to Scotland at the age of 3 fluent in Burmese. He was brought up with his sister by their mother, a district nurse in and around the town of Forres, in Moray. His first experience of Edinburgh was as a boarder at Fettes College, where he completed his secondary school education.

As with many of his generation, he was called up for National Service in the army at the end of World War II. He was posted first to Egypt where he trained as a tank gunner/loader using abandoned German tanks for target practice. From there he was posted to Northern Italy where his duties included guarding scarce petrol stocks from certain members of the local population who were desperate to transfer them onto the black market! Whilst there, he developed a love of American jazz which was continually broadcast on the Italian radio service.

Following national service, Jack began his architectural training at Edinburgh College of Art. It was here that he first met a fellow architecture student, Hilary Davidson, who was later to become his wife.

His class was fortunate to receive life drawing lessons, as part of their course, from the renowned Scottish artist William G. Gillies, who later became the Principal of the College. This experience influenced the rest of his life, and it is celebrated in the many sketches and watercolours that he made during Mediterranean holidays.

Jack graduated from the diploma course at Edinburgh College of Art in 1954. His first post was in the Architects’ Department of the South-East Regional Hospital Board.

He was admitted to ARIBA and ARIAS in 1957. Thereafter he joined the practice of Alan Reiach in 1958 as an architect and became an associate in 1963. In 1967 he became a partner in the combined practice of Alan Reiach, Eric Hall & Partners and continued there until he formed his practice in 1983.

During his architectural career, Jack was involved in many projects for both The University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University. This included being on the design team of the Appleton Tower for the University of Edinburgh which was regarded as a seminal building at that time. His projects were based firmly in the Science and Technical sector which continues to be a mainstay of the Practice today. Jack was fascinated by all aspects of science, and at one time, the practice held a weekly subscription to New Scientist, at his insistence.

The Syntex Research Centre one of Oberlanders first major laboratory projects at Heriot Watt Research Park

The Syntex Research Centre, one of Oberlanders first major laboratory projects at Heriot Watt Research Park

During the 1970s, Reiach & Hall formed a multi-disciplinary practice with Blyth & Blyth. Consequently, he was involved as a partner in several office development projects for major oil companies, which required periods of working in Iran.

Outside of the office, Jack had many sporting interests including rugby, and he played for Edinburgh Wanderers until his middle years. He claimed to be a frequent visitor to the Royal Infirmary Accident and Emergency Department, as the rugby matches on Saturday afternoons often resulted in the need to have his nose reset yet again!

He was already an early convert to the sport of windsurfing when he began in practice with David Lawson in 1983. Initially, they shook hands on their partnership with the intention of taking Wednesday afternoons off to go windsurfing together. Somehow the realities of architectural practice put paid to that idea!

Jack was one of the founding members of the Scottish Society of Architect-Artists which was created in 1987. He was a regular exhibitor at their annual exhibitions, with drawings and watercolours, in his distinctive style, as influenced by Gillies. These were held in various venues including the Royal Scottish Academy.

An original painting by Jack and a reflection of his love for the Pentlands

An original painting by Jack - and a reflection of his love for the Pentlands

Jack enjoyed walking whether it was to the Pentland Hills or within the City. He would regularly walk home to his house on Ferry Road and back for midday lunch from the office in town.

He was generous with his time to charitable causes including St. Columba’s Hospice - one of the first clients of the new practice. At one time he was to be found as a volunteer at weekends, painstakingly repointing their stone boundary walls.

Jack and Hilary were the proud parents of three sons: Alan, Eric and Jon during the years of their marriage. Later they became grandparents with 7 grandchildren from the boys’ marriages. Sadly, Hilary pre-deceased Jack in August 2022, and their son Jon died prematurely in 2017.

L R Ian Low Jack Oberlander David Lawson

L-R Ian Low, Jack Oberlander, David Lawson

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