Keith Barry Critchlow
16 March 1933
|Died||8 April 2020 (aged 87)|
|Alma mater||Summerhill School|
St Martins School of Art
Royal College of Art
|Occupation||professor of architecture, author|
|Known for||sacred architecture design and analysis, founder of Visual Islamic and Traditional Arts (VITA) school, co-founder of the Temenos Academy|
Keith Barry Critchlow (16 March 1933 – 8 April 2020) was an artist, lecturer, author, Sacred Geometer and professor of architecture and a co-founder of the Temenos Academy in the UK.
Critchlow was educated at the Summerhill School, St Martins School of Art, and the Royal College of Art.
Critchlow performed national service in the Royal Air Force from 1951 to 1953. In the Air Force he met Frank Bowling.
Having been originally trained as a classical painter, he went on to study sacred geometry and authored many books on geometry, including Order in Space; Islamic Patterns: An Analytical and Cosmological Approach; Time Stands Still and the Hidden Geometry of Flowers. He also contributed the forewords to English editions of works by Titus Burckhardt, Frithjof Schuon, and others.
Critchlow was a lecturer at the Architectural Association (AA) School of Architecture in London for twelve years. Whilst at the AA, he was invited to teach at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana by R. Buckminster Fuller, the American engineer, architect and futurist.
Buckminster Fuller wrote of Critchlow:
"Keith Critchlow has one of the century’s rare conceptual minds. He is continually inspired by the conceptioning of both earliest and latest record. He lauds the work of others while himself pouring forth, in great modesty, whole vista-filling new realizations of nature’s mathematical structuring.… He is one of the most inspiring scholar-teachers I have had the privilege to know".
Whilst in Ghana, Critchlow and his colleague Dr Michael Ben-Eli studied Fuller geometry and experimented in the construction of geodesic domes using local building materials, such as palm, bamboo and aluminium. One of their aims was to help reduce use of concrete and minimise the negative impact of construction on the environment.
In 1969, Critchlow formed Polyhedral Developments (a private company) in partnership with architectural designer Hayward Hill; together they pioneered the use of polyhedral domes as emergency shelters for families who had lost their homes to disaster. Critchlow and colleagues experimented in the use of lightweight materials for the construction of domes, including Tri-Wall Pak corrugated board, to aid in transport and assembly by unskilled labour in disaster areas.
Critchlow was professor of Islamic Art at the Royal College of Art in London from 1975 for many years. He also delivered lectures on the application of sacred geometry in architecture at the Lindisfarne Association in New York City and then Crestone, Colorado, in the United States from 1978. In Crestone, he contributed to a number of summer schools for Lindisfarne and taught alongside innovative thinkers from both the arts and sciences, including social philosopher and cultural critic, William Irwin Thompson (founder of the Lindisfarne Association), mythographer and symbolist Robert Lawlor, poet and environmental activist Wendell Berry, biologist John Todd, and environmentalist James Lovelock.
Critchlow founded the Visual Islamic and Traditional Arts (VITA) department in 1984, which moved from the Royal College of Art to The Prince's Institute of Architecture in 1992–3, where he was director of research. The institute later evolved into The Prince's Foundation, within which Prince's School of Traditional Arts (PSTA) is housed. He was professor emeritus at PSTA and served as director of research. He also taught at The Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment.
In 1983, Critchlow was asked by Indian philosopher and author Jiddu Krishnamurti to design the Krishnamurti Study Centre in Hampshire, UK, which was completed in 1986. His other architectural works include, the Lindisfarne Chapel in Crestone, Colorado, in the United States with a special design for the vaulting of the dome, and a hospital, the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences in Puttaparthi, India. Isaac Tigrett, who had founded the Hard Rock Cafe enterprise, secured Critchlow's expertise to design the hospital in Puttuparthi. His use of sacred geometry played a major role in these architectural designs and projects.
Critchlow made an important contribution to the re-construction of the Minbar of Saladin in the al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem. The minbar was destroyed by fire in 1969 following an arson attack by an evangelical Christian. King Hussein of Jordan launched a 30-year search, including international competitions, to find a sufficiently qualified person to re-design the intricate patterns of the minbar. The competition was finally won by Dr Minwer Al-Meheid who was inspired to make his submission after spending a year studying Critchlow's work:
"Seemingly, the ancient knowledge of how to map the structure geometrically had been lost. Until, that is, Minwer al-Meheid, an engineer from Jordan, walked into a bookshop in Damascus and fell upon a work that contained the answers. It was Islamic Patterns, a pioneering and seminal study of the geometry underpinning Islamic art, by Keith Critchlow." Resurgence & Ecologist Magazine, 2015.
The story of the re-construction of the Minbar of Saladin is told in a documentary film Stairway to Heaven.
Critchlow was president of the Temenos Academy, a co-founder of Research into Lost Knowledge RILKO and founder of Kairos, an educational charity which investigates, studies, and promotes traditional values in art and science. He served there as director of studies.
Critchlow was married to Gail Susan Critchlow for 62 years. He had four children.