NEAVE BROWN

In 2018, Neave Brown was awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects‘ Royal Gold Medal for his contribution to social housing. This is the highest honour for architects in the UK and it came 40 years after his last project was implemented in the country.

Neave Brown was among the first of the innovative team of architects employed by Camden Council under Borough Architect Sydney Cook in the 1960s and 70s.

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neave-brown_©Gareth Gardner.

In his designs Brown’s approach was modernist, reducing the decorative exterior and maximizing the quality of the interior spaces. One of the things that set Neave Brown apart from other designers is the way he prioritized pedestrians in his projects, unlike many architects who design around cars. The designs extended toward the streets, highlighting the importance of the journey and its influences on the way of life. Brown’s technical ingenuity in his planning matched his passionate empathy for the people who would be living in the houses he designed. The houses were compact which allowed him to create interiors with an open and spacious feel. His approach was fundamentally humanist in that it let residents use the spaces as they wished.

Projects

While working for Camden Council, Neave Brown designed three street-based housing schemes for which he is lauded as a pioneer of quality public housing. Brown did not conform to the high-rise design and instead proposed a new form of housing based on the streets and squares of eighteen-century London. This street-based alternative to high-rise housing became critically acclaimed in Britain and abroad.

Winscombe Street, London (1965)

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Neave Brown designed the five-row terraced houses for himself and four friends with their families.

Each house has an adults’ zone on the top floor, a children’s zone on the bottom floor that spills into the garden, and an intermediate zone containing a kitchen, dining, and entrance on the middle floor.

The project financing was with a 100% loan from Camden Council on the condition that the houses conformed to the standards and cost limits set for local authority housing. Brown efficiently delivered four bedrooms and two bathrooms within the space and cost limits prescribed for a three-bedroom, one-bathroom unit.

Dunboyne Road Estate, Fleet Road, London, England (1975)

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This was Neave Brown’s first housing project for Camden. It is among the first low-rise high density housing schemes in the UK.

To preserve its scale and intimacy, each of the 71 maisonettes and apartments has a private terrace. It has a central pedestrian walkway. The estate also has a communal garden, a shop, and a studio.

Alexandra Road estate, London (1978)

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Dunboyne Road Estate_©themodernhouse.com
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Alexandra Road comprises three parallel block complexes located next to a major rail line on the outskirts of London. The blocks are separated by two pedestrian streets. The construction of this high-density low-rise housing is made on rubber pads to minimize noise from busy train tracks.

The flat roofs of the stepped elevation in the highest block offer private outdoor areas for all households. Each house has a private terrace open to the sky. The estate is self-contained with a school, youth center, public park, play center, community center, and shops. Brown aimed to create a modern version of London’s traditional urbanism, based on a vocabulary of streets and squares.

Brown was a strong believer that every household deserves direct access to the network of roads and streets that make up a city gate.

The 350m-long curving pedestrian street lined on either side by stepped terraces created by Brown generated an intimacy within the neighborhood and provided a greater open space.

Smalle Haven, Eindhoven, the Netherlands (2002)

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Alexandra Road estate_©steve Cadman

Smalle Haven consists of shops, apartments, and office space. Smalle Haven has a terraced design similar to Alexandra Road. It comprises 73 apartments, 2000 m2 of commercial space, and 250 parking places. Just like other Brown’s projects, this estate is pedestrian centric.

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On the high side of the structure, it acts as a barrier against traffic and the residential terraces are on the side facing the sun. The residential terraces are covered by plants. The exterior of this brusque architecture forms a perfect backdrop of green.

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Smalle Haven _©biotope-city.net
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Smalle Haven _©biotope-city.net

By the time the Alexandra road project was finished in 1979, it was way over budget and schedule. The councillors set up a public inquiry which they had hoped would lay the blame on architect Neave Brown. However, two years later, the inquiry commissioned by Camden from the National Building Agency found the councillors to be at fault and not the architect. While the results of the inquiry exonerated Neave Brown, the fact that he had been subject to a public inquiry and that it had lasted so long did irreparable damage to his reputation as a practising architect.

Brown went to study fine arts at the City & Guilds of London Art School and worked as an artist. He designed exhibitions and taught art.

Smalle Haven _©biotope-city.net

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) created the Neave Brown Award for Housing in honor of architect Neave Brown. To enter a project, it must be of ten or more homes, with at least one-third of the housing affordable, and demonstrates evidence of meeting the challenge of housing affordability.

Neave Brown who was born on 22 May 1929; died on 9 January 2018, at 88 years. RIBA President Ben Derbyshire eulogized him as a giant in the architecture community who had shown how intellectual rigor, sensitive urbanism, design skill, and determination could deliver wellbeing to the local community as Brown did in Camden.

All of Neave Brown’s projects in the UK are listed by the public body Historic England. Brown believed that an architect did not build a house or add to the city, but was actively remaking the city: strengthening its arteries – its streets – thereby contributing to the health and wellbeing of urban society.

 REFERENCES 

Works Cited

“Neave Brown Wins Royal Gold Medal for Architecture.” Www.architecture.com, www.architecture.com/knowledge-and-resources/knowledge-landing-page/neave-brown-wins-royal-gold-medal-for-architecture.

Barnaby, Julianna. “Alexandra Road Estate: Discovering London’s Architectural Gem.” London X London, 20 Dec. 2020, www.londonxlondon.com/alexandra-road-estate/.

 “NEAVE BROWN’S MEDINA COMPLEX, EINDHOVEN the NETHERLANDS | Biotope City Journal.” Biotope-City.net, biotope-city.net/neave-browns-medina-complex-in-eindhoven/. 

Walker, David. “1960s Neave Brown Maisonette on the Dunboyne Road Estate, London NW3.” WowHaus, 11 Sept. 2019, www.wowhaus.co.uk/2019/09/11/neave-brown-maisonette-dunboyne-road-estate/.

“Winscombe Street | Modern Architecture London.” Modernarchitecturelondon.com, modernarchitecturelondon.com/buildings/winscombe-street.php. 

Author

Joan is a landscape architect from Nairobi and a member of Architectural Association of Kenya(AAK). She is interested in architecture journalism and feels the need for proper documentation of landscape architecture works for posterity and ease of accessibility of information. She's also interested in designing climate sensitive spaces for people.

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