Neave Brown: Building a legacy

In October 2017, three months before his death, Neave Brown received the Royal Gold Medal for architects – the greatest accolade for an architect for a lifetime of work.

In this specially commissioned film, we hear from the people who live in the houses he designed, have been inspired by his work and knew him as a peer and friend.

Known as a pioneer of social housing, Neave Brown rejected this term and instead insisted that he was working “not to do social housing but to do housing”. As friend and peer, Ted Cullinan elaborates, “He didn’t see local authority housing as something less than other people’s houses.” It was this forcefulness of will that marked Neave Brown as special and ensures that his legacy, much like his housing, will endure.

Speaking to current residents of the Alexandra Road and Dunboyne Road estates there is a prevailing consensus on Neave Brown’s designs which is most plainly described by Dunboyne Road resident, Burn Lamche: “People who live here really love living here.”

Families and children living on the Alexandra Road estate share a similar sentiment: “I like Rowley Road because there’s like a lot of open space and also there’s no cars bugging you” says young resident Halima. While her father, Sajjad agrees that Alexandra Road is a “wonderful space”, adding “all the families with children, they love the place so much.”

The quality and quantity of social housing being built now and in the recent past has been widely criticised: “Thatcher came along and stopped building local authority houses. We live in the result now.” says Ted Cullinan, Royal Gold Medal recipient 2008. While Neave Brown, in his Royal Gold Medal speech given in October 2017, said:

“Now we are faced with the problem of dealing with the alternatives; a high-rise building, prefabrication, standardisation, preferred dimensions and we knew, and we were right, that they were a catastrophe.”

Speaking about the current state of housing Alex Ely says “I do worry that housing has become quite formulaic so we need fresh thinking”. However, Alex remains hopeful for the future:

“There’s undoubtedly a renaissance at the moment of local authorities wanting to build good public housing today and so there’s a lot of lessons that we can learn from [Neave Brown’s] generation.”

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