He was a prodigy, my dad. At fifteen, he won a place at the country’s leading Architectural University but had to wait until he was sixteen to take it up. So, in the meantime, he studied Civic Design. He went on to become a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and a Master of Civic Design.
During the 1960s and 1970s, his company built thousands of homes throughout the south-east of England. His principles were simple: Each house must be of different design: the houses must be crafted rather than merely built: At least 50% of the area of any estate must be open and green space: Wherever possible trees must remain with sufficient space for them to breathe: Communities must not be segregated with starter homes mixed in with larger, more expensive houses: All houses must be affordable with any mortgage cost no more than 20% of income (it is over 70% today): No houses must be sold to corporations or investors for rental: Each community of houses must be completed and landscaped before any are marketed for sale (no selling”off-plan”).
Here are a couple of examples of his work (apologies for the poor picture quality). The houses in these pictures sold for an average of £3,000 (approx. £180,000 in today’s money). In 2020 houses from the estate on the left sold for between £560,000 and £1.3 million). Such is house inflation!
By the early 1980s, he had become disheartened by government directives which, amongst other measures, dictated excessive targets for the number of houses per hectare and lowered building quality controls thus allowing shoddy design and unscrupulous building practices to prevail.
Much against his will, he abandoned the construction industry.
He was an unassuming man, a thinking man, who never sought compliments or praise. He was an unsung pioneer who enriched the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
Arthur John (1928 – 2016), wherever you are, tonight we shall share a wee dram with haggis, neeps and tatties.
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© Rod McRiven 2021
Pictures: Emmer Green, Caversham and Burghfield, Berkshire