- Born April-June 1909 at Pendleton, Salford
- Married 1933 Vera Russell CHECK
- Died 1996
Henry Elder was born in Pendleton, Salford, in 1909, the son of Henry Elder, cabinet maker, and his wife, Jane. He received his education at the Royal Technical College in Salford (bricklaying), in the School of Architecture at the University of Manchester, and the Manchester College of Technology. He began his teaching career in 1933 at Manchester College of Art whilst also engaged in private practice with Gwylim Caradoc Roberts under the style Roberts Wood and Elder where he specialized in theatre and, more especially, cinema design. This represented a significant departure for a practice that had previously specialised in laying out new estates and producing house plans for speculative builders, particularly in Crumpsall.
Before the war Elder had become fascinated by Japanese architecture and had travelled to the country and had had his observations published. Ironically the expertise and insight he gained was utilised by the military during the war and he was consulted on how best to destroy Japanese buildings with aerial bombing. He served in the British forces from 1940-46 designing ordinance factories and doing weapons research for which he was awarded an OBE
In 1952 a partnership was formed between Enrico De Pierro and Henry Elder to implement the design for a technical college at Poole, Dorset, after the competition had been won by De Pierro in 1951. It was a general practice with special interest in schools and theatres. De Pierro was trained at McGill and Michigan Universities; Elder at Manchester University. Both partners also taught. In 1956 the partnership carried out the Middlesbrough Little Theatre. During this period Elder produced designs for two houses on a steeply sloping site at Alderley Edge
Disillusioned by the state of post-war British architecture Henry Elder emigrated to North America in 1958 when he was appointed professor in charge of graduate studies in architecture at Cornell University before teaching briefly at Stamford in 1961. The following year President Norman Mackenzie recruited him to direct the School of Architecture at University of British Columbia. He remained director for twelve years until his retirement in 1974. Henry Elder was an advocate for change and he developed a school that the Commonwealth Association of Architects called "unique in the English-speaking world". Elder used a number of methods to develop a creative sense in his students. His directions were controversial and unorthodox. He encouraged student representation in all of the school's committees and he fostered the increased enrolment of women into the School of Architecture. He stated that "The most significant change is that the school has been concerned with understanding architecture rather than the production of architects". In many ways his School of Architecture, its students and its faculty mirrored the changing culture of society in the late 1960s.