Reforming the Welfare State: Camden 1965-73

Mark Swenarton


The housing projects built by the London Borough of Camden in the years 1965-73 belong arguably to the most substantial investigations into the architecture of social housing undertaken in the past half-century. Under borough architect Sydney Cook, Camden aimed to establish a new kind of housing architecture based, not on the Corbusian tabula rasa, but on a radical reinterpretation of traditional English urbanism.

The outcome was a series of projects, including Fleet Road, Alexandra Road, Highgate New Town, Branch Hill and Maiden Lane, designed by members of Cook’s team, including Neave Brown, Peter Tábori and Gordon Benson and Alan Forsyth, as well as projects designed by up-and-coming private architects like Colquhoun & Miller, Edward Cullinan and Farrell Grimshaw.

While it began in what Hobsbawm called the ‘golden age’ of postwar capitalism, the Cook years (1965-73) saw the onset of the crisis of the 1970s and with it the rise of the New Right and the Hard Left, both of which viewed the Camden housing projects as a legitimate target for attack. Based on archival research and interviews, the paper explores the ways in which the Cook projects both mediated and articulated the emergence of these fissures within the British welfare state.

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