Neave Brown, 1929-2018

 John Hill
10. January 2018
Neave Brown and his 2018 Royal Gold Medal (Photo: Morley von Sternberg)
Neave Brown, the pioneering architect of modern social housing and the 2018 recipient of RIBA's Royal Gold Medal, died from cancer on Tuesday at the age of 88.
Although best known for the Alexandra Road estate completed in 1979, Brown's Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects brought more attention to the man behind the project and to other buildings he completed – all of his UK projects, it should be noted, are listed. Mark Swenarton, author of Cook's Camden (a new book about Alexandra Road and other social housing projects in the London borough designed by Brown and other local architects), describes Brown's most well known project as "the most architecturally celebrated housing scheme built in Britain in the half century."

Even though Alexandra Road is viewed with such esteem, it was Brown's last project in England, due to strong opposition at the time and a public inquiry that lasted two years. As he told AJ last year: "Nobody is going to employ an architect who has had a public inquiry into their work. I never did another building in England as a consequence of that." Regardless, it was the residents of the celebrated estate who nominated Brown for the Royal Gold Medal.

​Neave Brown was born in Utica, New York, to an American mother and British father. After high school north of New York City, he moved to England for college, eventually switching to architecture and finding his way to the Architectural Association. He was there at the same time as Kenneth Frampton, John Miller, and others who would become involved in low-rise, high-density housing.

After the AA, Brown worked for Lyons, Israel and Ellis, which he described to the AJ as "absolutely wonderful as a practice to learn how to build buildings." He set up his own practice in 1963, and three years later was hired by Camden for the Fleet Road housing project. Alexandra Road came the following year, but both Camden projects would see delays, finally wrapping up construction in the late 1970s.

Post-England projects include the Zwolestraat mixed-use development in the Hague, Netherlands, with David Porter and "Smalle Haven" in Eindhoven, Netherlands, an urban development with terraced apartments, shopping and office space. As Neave Brown's website illustrates, the architect was also a capable exhibition designer and artist.
Alexandra Road estate (Photo: Camden Council)

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