John Tarn

John Nelson Tarn (1934-2020) was born in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and attended Durham University from where he graduated with a first class degree B.Arch in 1957. Following graduation he worked for a time as an architectural assistant in the Newcastle practices of Warner Bros; Edwards and Partners before returning to academia. His doctoral research in architectural history was undertaken at Cambridge University earning him his Ph.D. in 1961. Professor Tarn obtained his first lecturing position at the University of Sheffield. In 1970 he took up the post of Professor of Architecture at Nottingham University and in 1973 was appointed to the chair of Roscoe Professor of Architecture at the University of Liverpool. During his time at Liverpool he also served as Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Acting Vice Chancellor. His international profile was reinforced via his involvement in The Chinese University of Hong Kong in which he took a leading role in the development of the architectural course and where he was made an honorary fellow. His early career books on housing history in Britain were influential and in the 1970s his work on 19th century working class housing was published in probably his best known work - Five Per Cent Philanthropy: An Account of Housing in Urban Areas between 1840 and 1914. Published in 1974, the book concentrates on some of the most famous philanthropic schemes of that era, including Bournville and Letchworth as well as dealing with lesser known work in cities such as Glasgow and Birmingham.

Outside of the world of academia Professor Tarn was active in the Archdiocese of Liverpool lending his expertise in art and architecture to the production of the first set of guidelines for church reordering. His work on the implementation of the significant liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council relating to church building - in collaboration with the Historic Churches Committee - earned him the award of Papal Knight of the Order of St Gregory. Professor Tarn was also awarded an OBE in 1992 for services to architecture and an honorary Doctor of Law from the University of Liverpool in 1999. Locally he served as President and Vice-president of the Liverpool Architectural Society as well as President of the Wirral Association. Professor Tarn's other public service saw him use his expertise and skill serving on committees - along with his depth of housing knowledge - to serve as chair of the Merseyside Improved Houses - which under his 18 year tenure grew from a local to a national social housing provider, now known as Riverside Housing Group. From 1977 to 1997, Professor Tarn served as chair of the Peak District Planning Control Committee and it was to the Peak District that he would retire, dying in November 2020 in Darley Dale. As his obituarists in the RIBA Journal noted 'He was friendly and kind - in a delightfully professional manner - and this, quite as much as his intelligence, made him very effective in public bodies because people liked him.' 

The Tarn Dissertation Prize is awarded for an outstanding piece of written work each year in the MArch.

Further Reading

John Nelson Tarn: academic, committee man and Papal award holder, Obituary, RIBAJ, 28 February 2021.