John Boughton examines the major ideas and theories that have shaped the form of council housing over its 150-year history. In overarching terms, there has been a long-running conflict between low-rise and multi-storey visions of social housing and a constant tension between the goal to build well and the need to build economically and at scale. Architects and planners have also designed schemes to promote community or separate people and traffic whilst finding their ideas discredited in practice or rejected by succeeding generations. Forms of prefabrication and system building – what are now called Modern Methods of Construction – are shown to have a mixed record of effectiveness at best. Nowadays, sustainable housing is rightly a key priority. Through this longer view, Boughton examines the notion of what constitutes a ‘failing’ estate and suggests that good design can only be one element in the creation of communities that thrive.
John Boughton is an historian with a PhD in social history from the University of Warwick. Following a career in teaching, he began his blog Municipal Dreams ten years ago as a record of local government achievement and endeavour with an increasing focus on the council housing that once housed one third of the British population. He is the author of two books: Municipal Dreams: the Rise and Fall of Council Housing (Verso, 2018) and A History of Council Housing in 100 Estates (RIBA Publishing, 2022). While the former focused primarily on the broad politics of council housing, his most recent book examines the principal planning and architectural trends that have shaped its form and content. He is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the School of Architecture of the University of Liverpool.
Organised by The Courtauld Architecture Society and Dr Robin Schuldenfrei (Tangen Reader in 20th-century Modernism, The Courtauld).