Neave Brown, the revered Modernist architect best known for his social housing projects, has been announced as this year's 2018 Royal Gold Medal recipient. The Royal Gold Medal is awarded yearly by RIBA in recognition of a lifetime's work to a person, or group of people, who have made significant contributions to the field of architecture.
Brown, 88, is the only living architect to have all their work in the UK heritage listed but he is perhaps best known for the 1970s Alexandra Road estate near Swiss Cottage built by Camden Council. The bold and exotic postwar estate is the most famous of the social housing schemes built during Camden’s “golden age” in the 1960s and 70s. With striking stepped concrete terraces, the complex represents the application of the terraced theme on an enormous scale.
RIBA President and Chair of the selection committee Ben Derbyshire spoke of Brown's significant contributions, asserting that “at his Alexandra Road and Fleet Road’s estates, he showed how to achieve successful high density housing without high rise. The tallest part of the Alexandra Road is just 8 floors, dropping to 4 at its lowest point - yet 520 spacious and sought after homes were provided on this exemplar scheme."
Widely regarded as his magnum opus, the Alexandria scheme is seen as the culminating effort by Brown to apply the principles of the London terrace house to the design of high-density public housing. The 5 row houses on Winscombe Street built by Brown in 1967 for the architect and his friends were the first experiment with this typology. The Camden Town project at Fleet Road was a further application of the idea, now with over 70 maisonettes and flats, arranged in parallel, terraced rows.
Responding to the honor, Brown remarked "all my work! I got it just by flying blind, I seem to have been flying all my life. The Royal Gold Medal is entirely unexpected and overwhelming. It’s recognition of the significance of my architecture, its quality and its current urgent social relevance. Marvellous!”
Derbyshire further underscored the urgent social relevance of Brown's work, concluding that “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. We need to build 300,000 new homes per year for the foreseeable future to tackle this crisis: a radical program of mass council homes, inspired by Neave Brown’s work, must be part of the solution.”
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