Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Politics, Property and Planning: Building the Brunswick, 1958-74

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Politics, Property and Planning: Building the Brunswick, 1958-74

Article excerpt

One of London's best-known 1960s developments, the Brunswick in Bloomsbury was one of the first exemplars of the shiftfrom high-rise to 'carpet' forms for urban development. Conceived originally as a private sector mixed-use venture, as realised it was a private-public hybrid, in which the contractor/ developer McAlpine built the commercial portions as a speculative venture but built the housing, to normal Parker Morris standards, for the newly-formed Camden council. Using newly available archival and other sources, the paper provides for the first time a full historical account of this convoluted project, showing how it was shaped and reshaped by the forces operating on the planning and development process in 1960s London, including in particular the housing policy of successive governments.

Keywords: Hodgkinson, Martin, Brunswick, Camden, housing

The shift from high-rise to low-rise models for urban housing, from 'mixed development' to carpet and courtyard schemes, was one of the main changes that took place in British housing and planning in the 1960s (Esher, 1981, 132-36; Owens, 1988, 373-411). In place of the Corbusian vision of tower blocks set in open parkland, as represented by schemes like the London County Council's Roehampton and officially endorsed by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Partridge 2008; Gold, 1997, 221-23; Cleeve Barr, 1958), attention turned to ways of delivering high densities without building high. A high-density, low-rise format for housing was widely adopted in the 1960s by councils in London, including Lambeth, Merton, Southwark and, most notably, Camden, with the famous schemes at Fleet Road, Alexandra Road and elsewhere (Esher, 1981, 131-136; Swenarton, 2012).

An early account of this change of direction was provided in 1962 by Walter Bor, then deputy planning officer at the London County Council (LCC) but soon to become chief planning officer at Liverpool, in the article 'A fresh approach to high density housing' (Bor, 1962). Reviewing the lessons of recent experience in both public and private housing, Bor observed that a shiftwas occurring: in place of the previously accepted belief that 'high densities could be achieved only by using at least some high buildings', he named three recent schemes which showed that 'high densities of 136-200 persons per acre can be achieved with traditional heights without introduction of a single high block' (Bor, 1962, 179).1

The first was John Darbourne's design for the Lillington Street site in Pimlico, which had won Westminster council's high-profile architectural competition the previous year. The second was Eric Lyons' Highsett in Cambridge, designed in 1958, a speculative scheme undertaken by the private developer SPAN.2 The third was the as-yet unpublished scheme by Sir Leslie Martin for the redevelopment of the Foundling estate in Bloomsbury, which was awaiting planning consent from the LCC. The Cambridge scheme, with a density of 136ppa, was on the margins of what was normally considered high density; but Lillington Street and the Foundling estate scheme, later known as the Brunswick, were both in central London, with densities of 200ppa. Both eschewed the Corbusian approach of towers set in empty space in favour of a 'carpet' approach in which open courtyards were defined by medium-rise (seven- or eight-storey) linear blocks on two or more sides.

Undertaken respectively by a London borough (Westminster) and private developer (SPAN), both Lillington Street and Highsett were relatively straightforward in terms of their procurement and delivery. The realisation of the Brunswick in contrast was convoluted in the extreme. Located in a central but rather run-down part of London, the project was conceived in 1958 by property developer Alec Colman, working in partnership with the building contractor McAlpine's, and initially was a purely private-sector scheme combining residential with retail and commercial uses. …

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