Tom Kay Architect


Here are some comments from former students, which show him as a dedicated and caring teacher:

From Wisam Kamieh

I met Tom Kay when I was doing my MA in Architecture at the RCA.

The carefulness in my work as an architect was, I think, born out of Tom’s teaching. He employed me for a short period and from him I learned to be careful and meticulous. Even after I set up in private practice I wanted to know his views on my work. And he would always oblige with a visit – he would get on his huge motorbike and travel from Camden to Twickenham.

Tom seemed to have a tendency for spotting challenging students. Once at a dinner party we realized that all the guests were former students and all had been considered “difficult” in some way. For me, other lecturers were mulling over who could avoid being my tutor when Tom offered to take me on, and I am very grateful. During that period at the RCA there was a great deal of internal politics due to a change in the head of school and not all tutors were interested in academia or the students. Tom was, and continued to be, long after he left the RCA.

Tom and Adah’s dinner parties – whether small and intimate or large gatherings, such as their leaving to Palestine do – were always full of some of the most interesting people I have met. My children have signed copies of books from a well known children’s illustrator, I’ve certainly met a RIBA president and a prominent film director at one event. And the magnets, the people who seemed to build and maintain what I would term as “elegant” relationships – friendships that were without neediness or demand; friendships that seemed always be based on a wish to spend time with the hosts – were Tom and Adah.

He became a friend for life and a “God Father” to my children – in as far as Muslim children can have a God Father. It was beautifully ironic in fact; a Jewish professor, born in Palestine with the same initials as my own father – and not far from where my father was born in Palestine, who becomes God father to Muslim, part Palestinian children. He and Adah were – Adah still – awe inspiring with their actions in and for Palestine . Now both my Muslim and my Jewish fathers are gone and I wonder if I will have the depth and integrity they had in rising to the challenge of the Palestine/Israel issue.

Of course, Tom quite often said “I’m not really Jewish but I like to say that just in case there is someone who is anti Jewish in the room”.

Tom and Luka Kamieh

I lost all of my fathers within a period of 18 months – Tom, then my father in law and then my father. All were Palestine supporters and supporters of me in my endeavors at a small architectural practice and all together they made the perfect father. I can only hope that there is a heaven and that they can spend time together discussing and resolving the important things in life and after-life. Always interjected with excellent anecdotes.

I’m attaching a photo of Tom with my son Luca a few years ago when he and Adah came to visit. He always let the kids have a go on his motorbike. I had forgotten – it really was bigger than him!

From Geoff Hollington

Tom taught me at the RCA, around 1972-73. I remember enjoying his energy and, though I didn’t get to know him very well, sensed a certain kindness and generosity. He wore what can only be described as a ‘Beatle Jacket’ — this thick corduroy, olive green, high-button collarless thing, that now I appreciate a lot but back then dismissed as hopelessly retro (by at least ten years for goodness sake).

He took our year group to his exquisitely converted country cottage on Lake Bala in Wales for a few days — quite beautiful. One night we stayed up drinking and singing, banging pots and pans for percussion accompaniment, while Tom tried to sleep. Next morning I noticed a pile of broken wooden spoons and battered, dented pans in the kitchen — but Tom, red-eyed and pale from sleeplessness, said nothing.

Of course we also went to see his Camden Mews house and were suitably amazed — I think Ada took us. It was only then that I (naive and ignorant child) twigged that Tom was a truly gifted designer.

From Jonathan Pennington who was an RCA student in 1968

Tom’s fundamental skill as a teacher was to put aside any personal agenda, and to test all assumptions by going back, extremely rigorously, to first principles. By questioning everything, gently but without evasion or digression, he forced the student to dig deep into the reason behind every decision.

He also had the ability to meet the student on level ground; to give the student the confidence to explore; and the confidence to believe that is or her point of view was as valid as any other – so long as it could be supported, justified and energetically defended.

Tom’s personality was ideal for a teacher – a forceful personality with strongly held views and wide intelligence and experience, he had no difficulty in putting all this to one side to empathise and identify with his student.

This didactic approach, where the student almost learned to teach himself, was not always evident in Tom’s work, which sometimes showed surprising preoccupation with idiosyncratic tropes. One element of his buildings does stand out, his preoccupation with the section, and ways of articulating spaces to get light down deep into the interiors.

My partner Dennis Robson lost his final year project drawings – I think they fell off the back of a mototorbike and got scrunched by a bus. Tom, who was his tutor, gave him a desk in Murray Mews, provided non-stop coffee, and Dennis re-did the presentation in a 4 day drawing marathon

Students, RCA Int. Design ’69