ian constantinides – 1955-2013 – he lived his life intensely

Ian Constantinides was one of the most innovative figures in British conservation history. Through his company St Blaise, he brought together the worlds of building and conservation at a time when conservation was seen as something marginal and impractical. Thus he raised the bar, ensuring that a broad range of skills and high standards of repair were applied to the nation's buildings. He did it all with a sense of adventure and discovery, training a large number of builders in conservation on site, who play a central role in conservation today. He was also a great teacher - his lectures on everything from lime plaster, to ‘sex and conservation’ were famed and well-attended. Ian, a tall wiry man with huge energy, was blessed with a rare combination of sensitivity and drive. He took every building on its own merits, lovingly considering every detail. He believed that a building held all the answers about itself - both revealing to the observant eye its history in its fabric, and dictating the best way to repair.


Ian was born in Amritsar, Punjab, India in 1955, where his father, an industrialist, ran an enormous factory. Ian’s earliest memories were of playing with the Untouchable children in the street, much to the consternation of neighbouring Indians, who organised unsuccessful deputations to his mother in an effort to stop this.  Ian described himself as ‘blessed with being good with my hands and having an instinctive understanding of materials and especially how they interact with each other’. He believed in the simple fact that the most important thing about an old building is that it is old.

In 1982 when Ian set up St Blaise, there was a wide gulf between conservators and builders. The conservators didn’t understand building practices and vice versa. With Ian’s single-minded dedication to understanding how a building works, he invited people from all the trades on to the building site and encouraged them to learn from each other.

Ian understood the value of a building’s relationship with the landscape, and how closely this was connected to building materials: St Blaise was fearless in resuscitating old building techniques and obtaining the “right” materials even if it meant reopening disused quarries, dredging lakes or scouring beaches for rare native shells.
From an early age, Ian developed a passion for motorbikes that lasted right up to the end of his life. He bought his first bike (a 1949 BSA Bantam D1 – a war reparation design based on the German DKW) just after his 16th birthday for £10.00. On this he rode around the country ‘getting to know every nook and cranny.’

Recently and to the horror of his friends and family, Ian insisted in taking part in Silverstone Races on his Ducati (called gravesgrasp). As always, he made a party of it, inviting all and sundry, despite only just having been discharged from hospital. Ian was delighted that he neither blew up, broke down, fell off, or came last, but had a ‘middlefield finish with the best of the slowest.’

In recent years, he turned once again as he had as a teenager to the open road. Despite the huge pragmatism that underpinned St Blaise, Ian was never a great businessman. He lost interest in St Blaise as the heritage industry became more established, even though this was to a large extent due to his constructive input. While delighting in the increasingly widespread care for old buildings in Britain, Ian despaired of the bureaucratisation that came with the growth of the industry, and a certain loss of idealism.

Under Ian’s directorship, St Blaise was involved in the repair of some 150 historic buildings. Some of the best people working in conservation today have worked with Ian, many of them were trained by him. Ian was also a brilliant teacher: he lectured extensively on conservation courses, to conservators, historians, builders and architects. His lectures were famous for humour, iconoclasm and amount of ground covered. They consisted of hard won pearls of wisdom based on his own experience - a combination of images and pithy messages, which conveyed, over and above anything the importance of looking.

A few days with Ian sharpened the eye enormously. Ian was a great believer that the human eye was the best tool of all, ‘better than the tape measure, the set square and the water level... Use your eye to see what works and looks good. Does it LOOK right?” the test of a good repair is: if it functions as a repair and if it looks beautiful. ‘If it fails in either, then it is not a good repair.’ This did not mean he believed in superficial repair. He believed it is better not to repair at all than to repair badly.

Ian Constantinides – 1955-2013 – He lived his life intensely