The entire industry was deeply saddened by the news of the passing of Modernist Architect Neave Brown on 9th January. A pioneer in social housing, Neave transformed the face of post-war social housing in the 1960s and 70s reinventing the traditional high-rise infrastructure of social housing across the UK, only recognised for his creativity and architectural ingenuity sadly long after his retirement and 40 years after the delivery of his remarkable schemes.
He was named 2018 laureate of the RIBA Gold Medal at a private ceremony on 2nd October, 2017. Three weeks later a sold-old audience of circa 1300 people congregated in the hall of Hackney Empire Theatre, East London, for one of Neave’s final public appearances, The Architecture Foundation’s presentation ‘An Evening with Neave Brown’, where he concluded his presentation with: “I thought the buildings that I had done after Margaret Thatcher were simply those pieces of the past...I had no idea they were still being looked at as not only bits of the past but as something which might be relevant to the present and the future. And so, I was dumbfounded by the fact that all of this has happened to me, in a sense, at the end of my life.”
Neave’s most notable large-scale scheme, for the London Borough of Camden, was the Alexandra and Ainsworth estate, also referred to as Rowley Way. Designed in 1968, while he was working for Camden Council’s architectural department, the site comprises 520 apartments, a school, community centre, youth club and parkland.
During this time, council's responses to the high population density across London was to replace dilapidated terraced housing with high-rise tower blocks, however, Neave’s ‘street-based’ housing regenerated the conventions of social housing providing sought-after accommodation for those seeking public housing.
Winscombe Street – designed by Neave for himself as well as four other families – was the precursor for the designs of the Alexandra and Ainsworth estate, alongside the scheme at Dunboyne Road estate, formally known as Fleet Road East. The design of Dunboyne Road estate acted as an experimental scheme with 71 homes, a shop and a studio arranged in the form of corresponding terraced rows. Taking architectural elements from his scheme at Winscombe Street, Neave designed each house with a large terrace that overlooked communal gardens.
Community was at the very heart of all Neave’s designs with a palpable connection with the existing city of London that surrounded all his housing schemes. When designing these structures, Neave disregarded the element of social stratification and, as a result, built homes that would appeal to individuals from all social walks of life. His designs spoke an architectural language of true innovation, social agenda and community spirit that will live on in the memory of this social housing innovator.