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Peter F Smith obituary | Art and design

My father, Peter F Smith, who has died aged 88, did not do very well at school until it was discovered that he could not see the blackboard. His performance improved dramatically with the help of a pair of glasses and he went on to become an influential architect, academic and author. He could construct a persuasive argument while exhibiting a well-developed sense of humour; he was also a regular contributor to the Guardian letters pages.

Born in Liverpool, he was the son of Irene (nee Shepherd), a school housemistress, and her husband, Harold Smith, who sang in music halls before becoming a ship’s purser and finally a probate administrator. After leaving Liverpool Institute, and doing national service, Peter studied architecture at Queens’ College, Cambridge. For his PhD, awarded by Manchester University, he pursued his lifelong interest in church architecture, theology and psychology.

This work formed the basis for his first book, Third Millennium Churches (1972), and was reflected in the eight houses of worship that he designed. Peter developed a low-cost model for redevelopment and rejuvenation of struggling churches by building a new one with incorporated housing.

Manor Road United Reformed church, in Stoke Newington, north London, was the subject of a 1973 BBC programme, House of God – With Vacant Possession, in the Viewpoint religious series.

My father took up his first academic post in 1965 as a lecturer in architecture at Sheffield University and later taught at Leeds Polytechnic (Leeds Metropolitan University), Sheffield Hallam University and Nottingham University.

He extended his interest in the psychological aspects of design and aesthetic perception to the urban landscape and his books on the subject were well-received within the profession. They include The Dynamics of Urbanism (1974) and Architecture and the Principle of Harmony (1987).

In the 1980s he became increasingly aware of the scientific research about global warming and changed the direction of his work towards sustainability. He became chair of the Royal Institute of British Architects’ environment and energy committee in 1988 and RIBA vice-president for sustainable development in 2000.

This work, along with his books, including Architecture in a Climate of Change (2001) and Sustainability at the Cutting Edge (2003), helped to bring about a fundamental shift in the profession towards environmentally advanced and sustainable design, with a consequent impact on government policy. Several books were translated into other languages.

In 1996, at Sheffield Hallam, he established the first school of architecture in which all the teaching was underpinned by the principles of sustainable development.

Colleagues and students valued his support as a mentor, and he was a loving husband, father and grandfather.

He married Jeannette Ferguson in 1958. She predeceased him by 11 weeks. He is survived by his children, Karen, Mike and me, and six grandchildren.

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