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Tributes paid to Camden social housing ‘giant’ Neave Brown

PUBLISHED: 12:43 11 January 2018 | UPDATED: 15:18 11 January 2018

Architect Neave Brown has died at the age of 88. Picture: MORLEY VON STERNBERG

Architect Neave Brown has died at the age of 88. Picture: MORLEY VON STERNBERG

Archant

Award-winning social housing architect Neave Brown who transformed Camden has died at the age of 88.

Neave Brown's contribution to architecture was recognised in the UK when he was awarded RIBA's Royal Gold Medal for Architecture last year. Picture: GARATH GARDNERNeave Brown's contribution to architecture was recognised in the UK when he was awarded RIBA's Royal Gold Medal for Architecture last year. Picture: GARATH GARDNER

A celebrated architect who combined modernism with traditional ideaas for urban housing, Mr Brown showed how social housing didn’t have to rely on high-rise buildings to accommodate large numbers of people.

Following his first project - five terrace houses in Winscombe Street, Dartmouth park - Brown joined Camden’s architecture department in 1965 working under Sydney Cook.

Liverpool University’s emeritus professor of architecture Mark Swenarton, author of Cook’s Camden: The Making of Modern Housing, said: “Cook was looking for the best new talent and Brown was central to that.”

Mr Brown believed every home should have its own front door opening directly on to streets, as well as its own private outside space, open to the sky.

Alexandra Road Estate under construction. Designed in 1968 by Neave Brown of Camden Council's Architects Department, this multi-family, 8-storey council housing estate, properly known as the Alexandra and Ainsworth estate, was built between 1972 and 1979. Picture: RIBA COLLECTIONSAlexandra Road Estate under construction. Designed in 1968 by Neave Brown of Camden Council's Architects Department, this multi-family, 8-storey council housing estate, properly known as the Alexandra and Ainsworth estate, was built between 1972 and 1979. Picture: RIBA COLLECTIONS

According to Prof Swenarton Mr Brown had a particular empathy with children and wanted to provide spaces where they could play. The Georgian approach to housing, which saw a range of homes provided for people with varying incomes, was also an inspiration for his work in Camden.

The pinnacle of Mr Brown’s low rise, high density approach is seen in the Alexandra and Ainsworth estate, designed in 1968, the first post-War council housing estate to be listed when it received Grade-II* status in 1993.

Mr Brown resigned from Camden in 1978 following the announcement of a public enquiry into why the estate wasn’t completed on schedule or to budget.

The enquiry, which reported in 1981, lay the blame at the door of Camden councillors, but the adverse publicity made it impossible for Mr Brown to work in the UK, according to Prof Swenarton.

The row of houses at 22-32 Winscombe Street designed by Neave Brown for Camden council. Picture: ENGLISH HERITAGEThe row of houses at 22-32 Winscombe Street designed by Neave Brown for Camden council. Picture: ENGLISH HERITAGE

He went on to teach in Germany as well as complete projects in Italy and Holland, besides fulfilling a childhood ambition to study fine art.

Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) president Ben Derbyshire, who presented Mr Brown with the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture last year, said: “The architecture community has lost a giant.

“Neave was a pioneer: he showed us how intellectual rigour, sensitive urbanism, supreme design skill and determination could deliver well-being to the community he served so well in Camden.

“His ideas, for low-rise high-density housing with private outside space for all residents, still stand as a radical antidote to much of the unthinking, not to say degrading, housing product of the era.

The Winscombe Street project was Brown's first. Picture: ENGLISH HERITAGEThe Winscombe Street project was Brown's first. Picture: ENGLISH HERITAGE

“Neave’s contribution to architecture will not be forgotten. His vision and ideals live on in the generations of architects, whom he has inspired.

“His investiture, brought forward to last October, could not have been a warmer and more emotional celebration in recognition of his influential life and work,” he added.

Of the Gold Medal Prof Swenarton said: “At the end of his life he finally got the recognition he had always deserved in this country.”

Mr Brown’s work went on to influence the design of a number of estates in north London, including Benson and Forsyth’s flats on Mansfield Road, Gospel Oak, and Peter Tabori’s Whittington estate.

Neave Brown is survived by his wife, Janet Richardson, three children and six grandchildren.

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