A Scottish immigrant by way of England and Canada, Terry Rankine was happily working with The Architects Collaborative in early 1962 when he and his colleague Paul Dietrich began to dream up a new kind of firm that, if anything, would be even more collaborative across more disciplines.
“We both felt that we wanted to do more than straight architecture, which was what most of the offices were doing in Cambridge at that time, and that architecture would benefit from a combined design approach ranging from exhibit design, graphic design, through urban design,” he wrote in a memoir that is posted on the Boston Society of Architects website. “A team that had many of these skills, with each member energizing the others and extending their abilities, would produce a different and more exciting architecture.”
At a kick-off meeting in a second-floor apartment on Ware Street, a few blocks from Harvard Square, “the discussion was loud and undisciplined,” Mr. Rankine wrote. “No one was in charge, no one was a leader, but reasonable manners prevailed, and decisions were made.”
They called themselves Cambridge Seven Associates, a nod to how many people showed up at that first gathering, and the firm landed its first job designing the New England Aquarium.
Mr. Rankine, an urban designer and architect who trained as a pilot and meteorologist during World War II and who never lost his Scottish accent, died March 3 in Maine Medical Center in Portland, a few weeks after undergoing heart surgery. He was 86 and had lived in retirement in South Thomaston, Maine.
Besides the aquarium, Mr. Rankine worked on scores of other projects, including designing the Porter Square MBTA station, the interior of the DC-10 jet airliner, and buildings at New England universities. He also was the partner in charge of planning, architecture, and interior exhibits when Cambridge Seven and R. Buckminster Fuller were selected to design the US Pavilion and exposition at Expo 67 in Montreal.
“He was an enormous stabilizing force for the firm, one of those guys who was always going back to the original principles,” said Peter Kuttner, president of Cambridge Seven.
Quiet and reticent, Mr. Rankine often asked the kinds of questions that focused the firm’s discussions, though just as often he preferred to duck the spotlight.
“It was great to be a young architect with him because he would always push you to the front and give you that chance,” Kuttner said. “Even though the office was seven equal partners, he was kind of the president. At some point in time, we might have officially called him that. I’m sure it didn’t sit well with him.”
Having helped create a firm with talents that extended beyond architecture’s typical boundaries, Mr. Rankine also wanted his partners to consider the impact each project would have beyond a building’s immediate confines.
“Terry’s contribution was to always think about our projects beyond the immediacy of the project, beyond the site, across the street,” said Chuck Redmon, a principal at Cambridge Seven. “He was hopeful and convinced that whatever we did would improve the public realm or the neighborhood in which the project sat. As a result, with his perspective, we all looked at projects through a slightly different lens.”
The younger of two children, George William Terry Rankine was born in Dunfermline, Scotland, where he grew up enamored of reading, ships, and aviation.
He interrupted his architecture studies at Edinburgh College of Art to serve in the Royal Navy at the end of World War II. Initially trained as a pilot, he finished his service as a meteorologist after the war ended.
Back at Edinburgh College of Art, he played clarinet in a jazz band and met Dorothy Forrest, an art student whose sculptor father was among Mr. Rankine’s professors. They married in 1953, the year after he graduated with degrees in architecture and town and country planning.
Mr. Rankine became a fellow in the American Institute of Architects in the late 1970s, but as he learned his craft at jobs in England and Quebec, he and his wife often lived on little income.
In their home just outside the old city in Quebec, “they didn’t have much furniture and read ‘War and Peace’ aloud to each other in the winter because they didn’t have radio or TV,” said their daughter Piper of Wakefield.
Mrs. Rankine, who died in Maine last Wednesday, supported the couple’s household with her earnings as a freelance fashion artist during the early years of Cambridge Seven.
Although he brought a stabilizing calm, Mr. Rankine “had a bit more wanderlust than anybody else in the firm,” Kuttner recalled. The firm often opened remote offices because Mr. Rankine wanted to spend chunks of time on-site at a distant project or studying how transportation worked in another city to help Cambridge Seven plan its MBTA work.
“My Dad started life and ended life as an intensely curious man,” said his son, Symon of Brunswick, Maine. “He always was interested in all kinds of things, and left notes and projects all over the place. He was just unstoppable, trying to learn about the world around him.”
Mr. Rankine was usually immersed simultaneously in three books, each one hundreds of pages long. “I’ve never known anyone to read as much as Dad,” Piper Rankine said. “He just absorbed information.”
Mr. Rankine was just as eager to learn about the lives of those he met through work and travel.
“I think one of the reasons people were drawn to him was that he was so interested in people and what brought them to where they were,” Piper said.
In addition to his son and daughter, Mr. Rankine leaves his sister, Christine Wishart of Dunfermline, Scotland, and a grandson. Mr. Rankine and his wife requested that no services be held.
For many years Mr. Rankine owned a Cessna and chose his South Thomaston, Maine, residence partly because of its proximity to an airport during the years when he flew back and forth before retiring.
During his days as a pilot with an instrument rating, “it wasn’t just about drilling holes in the sky for him,” his son said. “It was about understanding the environment and working with it.”
A vantage point in the sky offered a valuable perspective to an urban designer and architect. “He looked down on that world and the topography,” his daughter said, “and he really wanted to understand how people inhabited the landscape.”
Bryan Marquard can be reached at bmarquard@