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Obituary: Professor Billy McAlister a gifted architect behind airports across the UK

Published 16/12/2015

Forward-looking: Professor Billy McAlister, who has died aged 91
Forward-looking: Professor Billy McAlister, who has died aged 91

Professor Billy McAlister, one of Northern Ireland's leading architects during the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, has died aged 91.

During a highly successful career spanning four decades, Billy spearheaded a number of well-known projects, making his name as the architect behind Aldergrove Airport, now Belfast International, and Belfast Central Station.

Billy, born in east Belfast in 1924, attended Belfast Royal Academical Institution and later learned to fly with the RAF, which was to serve him well in his future career.

Prof McAlister studied architecture at Liverpool University, where he met his wife Sheila, and later gained a Master's degree in town planning from Queen's.

On his return to Belfast he set up his own firm, WH McAlister Architects. The business grew, partnerships were formed and other offices were established in Londonderry and London.

The architecture of aviation became a speciality of the practice, with commissions at airports in Belfast, Teesside, Gatwick, Aberdeen and Sumburgh in Scotland, which serves the Shetland Islands.

The firm then expanded its empire with branches in Glasgow, Darlington and Birmingham.

Billy collaborated with the leading engineers of his day on aviation works with Sir Frederick Snow and Partners, notably Aldergrove, and also on railway projects with former London firm Rendel Palmer and Tritton.

The collaboration with Rendel Palmer and Tritton led to the design of Belfast Central Station and other railway projects.

Prof McAlister always had the ability to look ahead, and he was among the first to see that environmental impact assessments and accessibility standards would be the next requirements for planning applications.

Late in his career he enthusiastically applied himself to acquiring qualifications in these new disciplines and set up one of the first consultancy businesses in Northern Ireland in this field.

His expertise was recognised and rewarded by the Ulster University with a professorship.

Prof McAlister was also very active in the Royal Society of Ulster Architects, providing leadership and guidance through the critical years of the Troubles, but mostly during his term as president.

He accumulated a broad range of academic and professional qualifications and positions over the years.

He was founder and senior lecturer at the Centre for Accessibility at the Ulster University and was also a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland.

Living in Donaghadee for many years, Prof McAlister was a highly regarded and popular member of Donaghadee Presbyterian Church and his local community. He was involved in many activities, including car rallying, arts, music and golf, and he was also a regular contributor to radio programmes.

Billy McAlister was ambitious, capable, talented and energetic, but also a warm and friendly man.

He leaves his wife Sheila, his son Bill, who worked with him for many years, daughter Liz and four grandchildren.

Belfast Telegraph

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