Neave Brown is an 88-year-old architect who has abandoned architecture for years. His designs in the 1960s and 1970s focused on high-rise social housing. In 2018, he was awarded the RIBA royal gold medal after 40 years have passed since the completion of his last project in the United Kingdom.

It is an absolutely dumbfounding surprise,” he says, eyes wide with shock. “I am in a state of tiswas about it. I stopped following architecture years ago, so I had no idea there was this renewed interest in my work until recently. I thought my buildings were a curiosity of the past that people had largely forgotten about.”, says Brown.

Alexandra Road Estate in Camden, London. Image courtesy of RIBA.

Neave Brown is the sole British architect who has all of his buildings in the UK listed while he is still alive. This acknowledgment arrives late after his professional career came to a halt because of all the negative feedback that hovered around his last project in Britain.

It was an absolute nightmare,” Brown reminisces. “I couldn’t work in England ever again. And when Margaret Thatcher came to power, she swiftly destroyed everything we had worked for anyway, by scrapping social housing altogether.”

 

Winscombe Street houses, photography: Martin CharlesThe British architect designed three projects, in the UK, between 1965 and 1979 of varying complexity and scale. The first project, located in Winscombe Street, was composed of five houses. The following one was in Fleet Road and comprised 70 houses—the Fleet Road Estate. His doomed last project, located in Alexandra Road, included 520 residences in addition to a school, a park, and shops—Alexandra Road Estate.

“The UK must now look back at Neave Brown’s housing ideals and his innovative architecture as we strive to solve the great housing crisis. The Government must empower and then encourage every single council across the country to build a new generation of well-designed, affordable and sustainable homes that meet the needs of the millions of people currently failed by the housing market,” commented Ben Derbyshire—RIBA President and Chair of the selection committee.

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