The Royal Festival Hall, London, opened in 1951. After half a century of constant use, the building and its auditorium found themselves stranded in a lifeless environment, unloved by musicians and losing money. For an upgrade in 2005-07 to enable the RFH to thrive again, the spirit of the original conception had to prevail over the literal preservation of the structure.
This shift in attitude towards conservation was achieved by the architect Diane Haigh, who died unexpectedly at the age of 73, and it led to a more widespread change in leadership.
At the time, the overriding consideration when working on old or listed buildings was the preservation of the building materials – an attitude that often hindered the changes needed to extend their useful life.
Di saw that more was needed if the RFH was to remain viable, with its acoustics and access for a wider range of productions improved. The large soundboards above the orchestra will have to be removed, the auditorium seating spacing increased, refurnished with seats and carpets, shops and cafes introduced on the river front and offices moved in favor of public lobbies. However, both English Heritage and the Twentieth Century Society objected to any change.
Looking for a way out of this impasse, Di researched the original scheme, interviewed its surviving authors and showed that the ideas behind the RFH’s design at the time of the Festival of Britain – its purpose as a performance space at the center of a lively public place – was as important a consideration as the fabric. English Heritage accepted this argument and changed its guidance. The RFH’s unloved auditorium was given a new lease of life and the Suidbank was revived.
As director of the hall’s house architects, Allies and Morrison, Di’s role was never that of a backroom researcher. She was deeply involved in every aspect of the RFH’s upgrade – ensuring that the intentions of the original architects were respected, right down to restoring the interior color palette.
Earlier she led the adaptation of Inigo Jones’ Queen’s House at Greenwich, a Grade I listed building and scheduled monument completed in 1635. There was the challenge of adapting the building to meet the requirements of the 1995 Disability Act.
Di found a way to replace an existing staircase and put in a new lift. So skilfully was it done that these and other changes – made in the face of intense opposition from English Heritage – in no way drew attention to themselves.
In 2000-01 she devised and implemented the successful strategy to convert Blackwell, a large house by MH Baillie Scott in the Lake District, into an art gallery. It drew on her experience when she and her architect husband, William Fawcett, restored five of Baillie Scott’s Cambridge houses from the early 1990s – about which she wrote an outstanding book, Baillie Scott: The Artistic House (1995). and compiled. a traveling exhibition. At the time of her death she was planning another book about this last of the internationally renowned Arts and Crafts architects.
Born in Kendal, Cumbria (then Westmorland), Di was the daughter of Joan (née Law) and Donald Haigh, both architects. After Donald’s early death, Joan continued his Lake District practice with an architect partner.
From Kendal High School, Di went to Newnham College, Cambridge, where she graduated in architecture in 1971, before moving to Darwin College for her postgraduate diploma. It was at Cambridge that she met William, whom she married in 1977 and with whom she practiced for many years. Their work has mainly been on smaller projects, including their own exemplary low-energy house, and restoration work on historic structures.
She helped with research projects on Essex and Hampshire schools before moving to Hong Kong in 1982 to teach at the university.
Returning to Cambridge in 1985, she taught postgraduate studios – groups of students working on design projects – and, later, undergraduate studios. She worked for Freeland Rees Roberts and was also project architect (1986-90) for the restoration and adaptation as a hospice of Thorpe Hall, a fine 1650s country house near Peterborough.
Later, for more than two decades (1995-2016), she was director of studies in architecture at Trinity Hall – supervising students during her weekends in Cambridge, after a working week in London.
In 2007, after working at Allies and Morrison for 11 years, Di was appointed director of architecture and design review at the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE). There, rather than being involved in the design process, she became responsible for managing review panels on significant projects in the planning system.
These included the sports facilities in the London Olympics, buildings for Crossrail and eco-villages. It was a major program and Di was deeply involved, using the design review process to hold commissioning bodies to account for quality – ensuring that significant projects were openly reviewed, no matter how strong the opposition.
She espoused the belief that design affects everyone’s lives and that it is a responsibility that all concerned must fulfill. Under her leadership, CABE’s review process has become better defined and more transparent.
In 2011, after her return to Allies and Morrison, she co-edited The Fabric of Place, an exploration of how places work and of what design can contribute to their further evolution. The book is now widely used as a primer on architecture and planning courses.
From 2014, in Cambridge, she led design review in the growing city. She was always cheerful and energetic, but over the years her impaired mobility (which she never referred to) became more and more apparent. But her extraordinary ability to connect with people remained and during the Covid-19 lockdown she designed and ran a program of creative online studios on subjects ranging from opera to poetry.
She is survived by William, their children, Eleanor and Francis, both architects, and three grandchildren.