Alistair Miller (1931-2021)
Alistair Miller studied at the School of Architecture, Edinburgh College of Art, graduating with a diploma in 1954. On graduation he worked for three years until 1957 in the school building development team of the Scottish Education Department, which brought him into contact with Eric Hall. Eric Hall established himself in private practice in 1956 and was joined by Alistair a year later as an assistant. Alistair was promoted to principal in 1959, and was assumed into the partnership of Eric Hall & Partners in 1963 when Alistair was 32.
Much of Alistair’s project work at this time related to educational buildings. This partly arose from raising the school leaving age to 16 which required several new school buildings all over the country, preparation for which started in 1964. The ‘Intergrid’ system-built approach for schools, using precast pre-stressed concrete beams and slabs, was used for many of these school in association with contractor Gilbert-Ash Ltd, and Alistair was instrumental in several major projects in the north of Scotland and Northern Ireland with this consortium during the 1960s, such as at Golspie, Dornoch, Limavady and Coleraine.
In parallel Alistair gave his attention to practice management. Soon after setting up his practice in 1956, and prior to initiation of the RIBA Plan of Work in 1963, Eric Hall engaged a management consultant to review standard architectural activities with a view towards improving productivity and profitability in his practice, as well as design quality and control. The result was an approach which went from the general to the specific within a structured framework that enabled improved monitoring and control. In a pre-computer age, Alistair codified these recommendations into a series of pro-formas and procedures that gave a practical approach to architectural job management, including a time sheet system to provide the necessary business feedback information. The RIBA Plan of Work, when it came, was intended to provide a framework for architects to use on projects with their clients, bringing greater clarity to the different stages of a project, and was easily integrated into the approach that Alistair had already developed.
With this developed management structure, Eric Hall and Alistair Miller together came up with an idea to provide ‘central services’ for architectural practices in which they would provide fee, programming, management accounting, project management and printing services, thus leaving the architects themselves free to concentrate on their architecture. Approaches were made to various established Scottish architects, which resulted in the merger with Alan Reiach & Partners in 1965 to form Alan Reiach Eric Hall & Partners: a management structure was set up allowing the partners of the combined firm a degree of autonomy beneath Eric Hall’s umbrella supported by Alistair’s ‘central services’. The combined practice was immediately successful and soon built up to fifty staff concentrating mainly on public sector and educational buildings, with Alistair now established as the administrative partner of the combined group who ensured the smooth running of the practice, while Eric Hall as senior partner determined overall policy. Alan Reiach retired in 1975.
An important decision made by Eric Hall and Alistair Miller in 1978 was to obtain a RUCAPS graphics computer, the third in the UK, Reiach and Hall being the first architect in Scotland with a CAD system. This extremely expensive purchase was in response to the prospect of abolition of the minimum mandatory fee scale which actually happened in 1982, with a view towards improving the practice’s efficiency to succeed in an increasingly competitive environment. This system was used for the Borders General Hospital, completed on site in 1987 and probably the first project in the UK to be constructed from an integrated set of general arrangement drawings and room data sheets derived from a single computer model, which improved construction efficiency significantly: the project was finished six months ahead of schedule with no claims.
Reiach and Hall underwent various evolutionary changes in the early 1980s. Eric Hall retired in 1983, and a new two-headed model emerged with Stuart Renton leading design in a more integrated studio environment, while Alistair Miller ran the office in financial and organizational terms. This period saw the practice move into a more commercial field, particularly with the St Enoch Centre, Glasgow, with GMW Partnership, an association which originally came about because of Reiach and Hall’s purchase of GMW Computers’ RUCAPS graphics computer system. Alistair was instrumental in setting up the partnership which enabled the two practices to work together.
Alistair Miller retired from Reiach and Hall in 1991. Succession had been carefully planned with the two-headed model continuing, Neil Gillespie leading design while Tom Bostock took over management of Alistair’s ‘central services’.