Computer architectLionel March

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As a boy growing up in England, March had an affinity for mathematics. At 17 he wrote an original mathematical paper generalizing the theory of complex numbers to n-dimensions — using his own ideas. He didn’t bother to show it to his schoolteachers: he instead sent it directly to University College London, which sent it to computer science pioneer Alan Turing at Cambridge. Turing was so impressed he got March a scholarship for Cambridge’s Magdalene College to study with mathematician Dennis Babbage, who was a World War II code-breaker at Bletchley Park with Turing. March came away from Magdalene with bachelor’s and doctorate degrees in math and architecture — and a fellowship to do post-doc work at Harvard.

One of March’s many books.

When he returned from Harvard, March was hired to work with the lead architect of a big new project: the Whitehall project to house national government workers in giant buildings. Given the amount of office space needed and the land available to build that space, March went to work to figure if skyscraper-style buildings were really needed. “The result of computations convinced us that the whole scheme could be arranged in courts surrounded by buildings no higher than the existing Victorian and Edwardian office buildings in the area,” March wrote later. “Tall towers were not necessary.” It was how March did those computations that was radical in 1965: he used “an early card-hungry computer” — apparently the first time anyone used a computer in architecture. The lead architect, Leslie Martin, was so impressed that Martin founded the Centre for Land Use and Built Form Studies (now the Martin Centre for Architectural and Urban Studies), and put March in charge as Chairman. March didn’t sit still for long: he taught systems engineering at the University of Waterloo (Ont., Canada), design technology at the Open University (Milton Keynes, England), and taught for many years at the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning at UCLA. He was also one of the earliest computer artists. Dr. March returned to England, and died there on February 20. He was 83 or 84.

From This is True for 25 February 2018