Named after the Past President of the UIA, Robert Matthew, and attributed since 1978, this prize embodies the goals of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). Sir Robert Hogg Matthew, OBE FRIBA FRSE (12 December 1906 – 2 June 1975) was a Scottish architect and a leading proponent of modern architecture. Robert was born and brought up in Edinburgh. He was educated at Edinburgh Institution and attended the Edinburgh College of Art. Robert, whose father, John Fraser Matthew, was also an architect, was apprenticed with his father’s firm. In 1936, he joined the Department of Health for Scotland, as assistant to John Wilson. By 1945, he had replaced Wilson as Chief Architect and Planning Officer. On VE Day, Robert found himself stranded in Sweden, where he spent this time designing kits for prefabricated houses which conformed to the recommendations of the 1944 UK government report Planning our New Homes. This led to the importation of over 2,000 Swedish post-war prefabricated houses.
In 1946, Matthew moved to London, becoming Chief Architect and Planning Officer to the London County Council, where he served from 1946 to 1953, working on the post-war reconstruction of Greater London and masterminding the Festival of Britain including such buildings as the Royal Festival Hall, 1951. It was during these formative postwar years that the LCC’s housing and town planning policy established an international reputation. In 1956, Robert Matthew established his own firm in partnership with Stirrat Johnson Marshall. They named the firm RMJM (Robert Matthew, Johnson Marshall) and established offices in Edinburgh and London. Their first project was New Zealand House in the Haymarket, London (now considered one of Matthew’s key buildings). In 1953 he returned to Edinburgh to become the first Professor of Architecture at the University of Edinburgh, where he established the new Department of Architecture in collaboration with RMJM. He continued as Professor there until 1968. The Matthew Architecture Gallery is now housed in the Department in his honour.
In the early 1960s, Matthew was involved in the replacement of overcrowded, insanitary tenement housing in Hutchesontown, Glasgow with high rise tower blocks. He worked alongside Basil Spence in the planning and design of the controversial Area C blocks in the Gorbals. Independently of Spence, his practice designed the adjacent Area B or “Riverside” high rise estate which unlike the ill-fated Area C blocks, have survived and are widely regarded as the more successful of the Gorbals high-rises. In Edinburgh, he was also behind the Royal Commonwealth Pool, British Home Stores on Princes Street, Edinburgh Airport, Lothian Regional Council Building and Wester Hailes Education Centre. Robert Matthew served as the President of RIBA from 1962 to 1964. He was awarded an OBE in 1952 and knighted in 1962. He was later also President of the Commonwealth Association of Architects and the International Union of Architects. Apart from his work as an architect, Matthew produced drawings that were widely exhibited, and also paintings, although they are less well known. Both display the same aesthetic concerns as Le Corbusier, Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore all of whom he was able to count among his friends and colleagues.
Awarded to either individuals or groups, past recipients of the UIA Robert Matthew Prize include Hassan Fathy, Stefan Foster, Giancarlo de Carlo, Carin Smuts and the Seoul Metropolitan Government.