Phil Gusack Obituary

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It is sad to report the death of Phil Gusack who passed away peacefully on the 9th of November 2011 at the age of 63.

Phil was the complete architect, living and breathing his chosen occupation. With a highly creative mind and an inclination towards lateral thinking he was an engaging and challenging companion and good fun.

The only son of a doctor, he was born and brought up in Sunderland and showed early artistic talent and a determined interest in becoming an architect. Pursuing this desire, he went to Liverpool University to study Architecture from 1967 – 1970, but any further progress there was interrupted by the student rebellion that took place and in which he took part, ending up as one of the small group of students who were sent down by the University.

However, it could be said that at this point he achieved his highest national profile, appearing, to the surprise of many, including his parents, on the front page of the then Manchester Guardian.

He then came to London where he worked initially as an assistant to Alvin Boyarsky and then with the Architects at the Department of Health and Social Security.  At the same time he pursued his studies at the AA, gaining his Diploma in 1974. While working in the DHSS on the Harness Hospital Building System he met George Agron from Marcini and Patterson Architects in Berkley, USA, and was invited to join the firm to work on the Veteran Hospitals programme in which they were involved.

This was the beginning of Phil’s travels and work in many countries. He enjoyed everything about America and its culture and he worked there, in California and New York, for ten years before returning to the UK in the 1980s. From here, where he had become a Director at Fitch, he left for St Vincent in the Caribbean and then, in the late 1990s he moved to Poland.

Wherever Phil went he made good friends. Although he was not always able to keep in touch from abroad, the moment he returned anywhere he was on the phone to say Hi, I’m back! He researched, planned, designed and built a wide range of projects, not just hospitals, in the UK, USA, West Indies and Eastern Europe. One of his more recent projects, Tulipan House, a 20,000m² office development in Warsaw, has recently received an award.

Phil was based in Poland when his health worsened, forcing a return to the UK in 2003. Despite these problems and his loss of sight, his interests, enthusiasm and creativity did not diminish. It was typical of his character and dedication to the pursuit of his profession and his wide ranging interests in the world of ideas that the obstacles created by his illness were seen by him as challenges to be overcome: where others would have faltered he continued with determination and, amongst other enterprises, responded to two opportunities to participate in ideas competitions for future hospitals. The first of these was for Riga in Latvia, and the second for a hypothetical site in Holland. Both were well received and gave him the opportunity to see a number of his European friends.

He became an active and helpful member of Architects for Health, frequently writing up reports on events for placement on its website. His visit last year to Brazil with colleagues from Architects for Health produced an entertaining video about their trip to Brasilia and its architect, Oscar Niemeyer. This was shown in his absence at the society’s meeting at the Brazilian Embassy, and he was pleased to know that it was well received

More recently he was able to visit Israel and, despite his lack of sight, managed through his many contacts and friends, to travel round and visit a number of hospitals. It pleased him immensely, that while he was there, he was invited to give a lecture on architecture in the Palestinian city of Ramallah.

His final achievement was his contribution to the winning design in the international competition for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital in Johannesburg, which is to be built in 2014. He had great respect and admiration for Nelson Mandela and said that what he really wanted was to have had the opportunity to meet him and shake his hand. Yes, and maybe a photo shot too!

It was a measure of Phil’s ability to win the life-long loyalty of his friends that, while over seventy of them were able to attend his funeral two days after his death, a large number of those who were unable to get there gathered in January to hold a wake simultaneously in London and New York to celebrate his life and honour his parting.

Phil Gusack 11.4.1948 – 9.11.2011


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