This interview was originally published in abbreviated form in German in Der Standard, October 16, 2017 when Neave Brown was awarded the RIBA Gold Medal. Neave Brown died after a long battle with cancer on January 9, 2018. He was 88.
He brought intelligence, detail, humanity and elegance to the design of housing estates. I will always remember visiting him at his home in his very own Dunboyne Road Estate last year.
The architect John Winter called the era of Sydney Cook, borough architect of Camden in the 60s and 70s, a „magical moment for British housing.” How did you become part of this magic?
I had just finished the five Winscombe Street houses. Didn’t have enough work. I wondered what the hell to do. A friend of mine was working for the new Camden office of Cook, two months after it was set up. The Camden people went up and saw Winscombe Street and liked it. So I got a job there. It was the best decision of my life. We had amazing support from Sydney Cook, who if necessary broke the rules. And huge support with planners and the housing people. Without that, we couldn’t have done it. It was a remarkable period.
Modern architecture has always had difficulties being accepted in traditionalist Britain. What motivated you to change this?
When I returned to England after the war, any attitude that accepted the notion of modernism was absolutely antipathetic to most aspects of British culture. In the inter-war period there were very few built examples of modernism in comparison to continental Europe, like Germany, Italy or the Netherlands. In peoples’ minds we would go on in a traditional British way forever. Young people like me didn’t want that at all.