By Clive Henderson, Sandra Wheen and Linus Rees
Reginald Bertram Dinnage, known as Bertie, was born in Crowland, Lincolnshire. His father was the village baker and his mother, whose maiden name was Wakefield, came from a family known for their culinary skills.
As a young man Bertie took part in long-distance running, rugby, and played cricket. He later become a highly respected architect, having had ambitions to enter the profession from an early age. He has entries in Pevsner’s Architectural Guide for London (Vol. 4: North & North East London).
In a voluntary role he was chair of the Charlotte Street Association, secretary of the Friends of Open Spaces Fitzrovia, an associate editor of Fitzrovia News; and a member of the Fitzrovia Trust, a charity which acquires mixed use properties to provide social housing and small business premises.
After leaving school Bertie took an engineering course and later studied at the Architectural Association in Bedford Square. In the mid-1960s he lived with his first wife Valerie for some years in Buffalo, Canada, where he left his designs upon many buildings in the city.
For much of his working life he worked at the London Borough of Haringey architects’ department where he led a number of municipal buildings and housing developments.
He had the unusual distinction of having six mentions in the Pevsner guide for London. His design for a library is influenced by the Scandinavian architect Alvar Aalto — a humane modern architecture influenced by landscape and natural materials.
Later he took a special interest in access for the disabled and worked for Southwark Council. Despite the introduction of computer aided design (CAD) into architects’ offices he preferred to use a traditional drawing board.
Bertie was physically sturdy. In an accident more than 20 years ago he had survived death in a fall from several storeys. He escaped with some broken bones but came to walk with a stoop and a characteristic gait.
He came to live at Gordon Mansions in Torrington Place in the late 1960s. When the flats were later being bought and sold speculatively, Bertie with others founded the residents’ association. He became the first chairman and persuaded Camden to buy the flats to protect the residents’ security of tenure.
He encouraged neighbourliness and new tenants were welcomed into Gordon Mansions in a harmonious way. When right-to-buy came in tenants and leaseholders continued together in one organisation. With his architectural background he ensured that the flats retained their character, and were not “standardised” by building repairs.
Many people at Bertie and Keiko’s wedding and at gatherings in their flat over the years enjoyed Bertie’s cooking. He was a great homemaker and very accomplished in DIY. He had never bought a bed but made all the beds in his flat himself.
Communicating with people he did easily. He was diplomatic, patient, even-tempered and polite. Often you would hear the mantra ‘Ask Bertie’ when neighbours had been puzzling over an intractable repair; and when relationships between neighbours broke down Bertie was called in to mediate.
In a deposition to the Council about a planning application, Bertie put in a sentence about Gordon Mansions being a community like Coronation Street. Perhaps that was poetic licence but there is some truth in it. He also encouraged people to treat the Council with courtesy.
There were limits to his patience and many years’ ago at a meeting with residents and a local councillor Bertie took exception to what was being said by the councillor and suddenly stormed off. But before leaving the room, he turned around and demanded that the folding chairs he had lent to the meeting be returned to him immediately. He made them all stand up while he folded the chairs and walked out leaving everyone with nowhere to sit.
On another occasion he was so appalled at the design of a piece of open space being proposed by a developer that he refused to give any written opinion. He shook his head and walked off saying: “This design is of such poor quality that it does not even merit being commented upon.”
But it was his kindness and care for living things that defined him. One day he stopped to look at a small tree near his home and said: “Oh, I meant to bring a bottle of water for that tree”. Not only had he managed to get the tree planted in the first place, but he had been looking after it.
In the last 15 years Bertie continued to be active. He was secretary then chair of the Charlotte Street Association (CSA) dealing with planning and environmental issues. He also had the idea for a photographic project, and successfully applied for a Lottery grant, for which he and others photographed every building in Fitzrovia to build up an archive and exhibition.
His particular love was Fitzrovia’s public spaces. He designed and modelled a children’s playground in Crabtree Fields. Both he and Max Neufeld, as experienced architects, volunteered to project manage the scheme. Camden instead brought in their own designers, and produced a less sensitive (and more expensive) scheme.
In later life he came to enjoy his home life more and would prefer to stay in to listen to music, watch television, cook and eat good food, and devote more time to his wife Keiko.
Bertie’s care for his community and his gentle civility are now part of the very fabric of Gordon Mansions. We shall be reminded of him in each other, in the red brick, and in the painted porticoes he liked so much.
Bertie is survived by two sons (from his first wife pre-deceased) and his wife Keiko.
Reginald Bertram Dinnage, architect. Born 16 January 1932, Crowland, Lincolnshire; died 16 February 2011 Hampstead, London.