Architect whose street-based housing projects showed great empathy for people and won him the RIBA royal gold medal
Neave Brown, who has died aged 88, was the architect of what is widely considered the finest housing built in Britain in the last 50 years. In the 1960s, through a series of housing projects in Camden, north London, of increasing scale – first five houses (Winscombe Street), then 72 (Fleet Road), then 522 (Alexandra Road) – he demonstrated a street-based alternative to high-rise housing that was immediately acclaimed both in Britain and abroad. But then in the 1970s and 80s, when the reaction against the welfare state set in, he was left high and dry, and it was solely in mainland Europe that he was to build further projects. Only in his final years, and especially in the last six months of his life, was his work recognised with the award of the Royal Institute of British Architects royal gold medal in September 2017 and a series of public appearances to sell-out audiences, culminating in a “for one night only” performance at the Hackney Empire, at which he received a 10-minute standing ovation.
What distinguished Brown as an architect of housing was that the technical ingenuity of his planning was matched by his passionate empathy for the people who would be living in the homes he designed. His flat and house plans were a masterpiece of compression, with not an inch of space wasted – allowing him to create in Britain, within the space and cost constraints of local authority housing, interiors that felt remarkably open and spacious. But these plans he saw not as an end in themselves but as the setting which the various residents would take and use as they wished. This humanistic quality was fundamental to his approach.