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News > Obituaries > William John Gilbert Godwin

William John Gilbert Godwin

14 Feb 2024

William John Gilbert Godwin was born on June 17 1928 in Chalfont St Giles, England.

He was due to be educated in Belgium but with the onset of the WWII he returned to the UK on the last civilian boat—The Mayflower. Throughout the war he moved from school to school as his parents relocated around the UK finally finishing his secondary education at Wrekin College.

In 1944 he was accepted for two terms at the Kingston school of Art as at just over 16 his entry to the Architectural Association in London had been delayed to September 1945. Whilst there he was successful in gaining the Leverhulme Scholarship for study at the AA in June 1945. He trained alongside older students, returning from the war as well as contemporaries.

John qualified in 1950 and went on to serve his National Service, which had been deferred so he could complete his studies, at Chatham in the Royal Engineers. Following a short spell in London at Yorke Rosenberg and Mardell as an architect designing post war housing, John was approached by Leo De Silas of Architect’s Co-partnership to take up a post as resident partner for their newly formed office in Lagos, Nigeria. He arrived there on the 14th of February 1954 and was followed in March by Gillian Hopwood, his wife, whom he had married in 1951. After working in Lagos for 18 months with ACP the young architects started their own practice Godwin and Hopwood, which later became Godwin, Hopwood Kuye (GHK) in 1989.

GHK was responsible for numerous important building projects throughout Nigeria, and remains a leading architectural firm with over 1000 buildings to their name. Currently there is a book being written about their work and influences on architecture in Nigeria from the 1950’s to 2017 when they returned to the UK. Throughout his time in practice, he was an active participant in the Nigerian Institute of Architects serving as Chair of Practice negotiating terms of a fee scale with government when Obasanjo imposed a 4% maximum fee on the profession.

During the late 1960’s through the British Council John was appointed to be a visiting lecturer in Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan at emerging architectural schools. Whilst in Nigeria he taught at Zaira University in the arts department. In 1998 John was approached by the University of Lagos to take up a post as a Visiting Professor eventually setting up a postgraduate course preparing architects for practice. Thus commenced 15 years dedicated to working with young Nigerian architects in Lagos and adjudicating student coursework and giving lectures in other universities around Nigeria. Even after settling back in UK John responded to a call from the AA to mentor their thesis students.

Very early on John was introduced to the Lagos Yacht Club and learnt to sail dinghies going on to own and sail Tarpons, GP14’s and Lightings. He carried on sailing well into his 70’s when he pragmatically decided that he would have difficulty righting a boat if it capsized in the busy working harbour of Lagos. 

John led three trips across the Sahara Desert in 1974, 1977 and 1981. All trips were adventures as well as being investigative. The last trip, dubbed the ‘ladies’ trip’ including, as it did, wives and daughters as team members, visited fossilised dinosaurs in the Tenere and Roman settlements in Algeria and Tunisia.

In 1995 seeing that there was a desperate need for saving historic buildings John and a group of like-minded people set up Legacy 1995. John also served as a Trustee on the board of several organisations including, Glover Memorial Hall, Nigerian Conservation Fund and the Lagos Yacht club.

He devoted his ‘retirement’ in UK to the project of assembling the Godwin and Hopwood archives and writing an introduction to these which have been accepted by the Canadian Centre of Architecture in Montreal.

In 1978 John received an OBE for services to architecture in Nigeria and in 2002 he was awarded the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

In December 2002 he and his wife Gillian were granted Nigerian citizenship.

He and Gillian received traditional titles of Baakole of Owuland (Master builder) and Erelu Baakole of Owuland bestowed on them by the Traditional Monarch.

John died at home on 12th February 2023 on a cold sunny Sunday.

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