MARK SWENARTON – Cook’s Camden

Mark Swenarton is an architectural historian, critic and educator. In 1981 with Adrian Forty he set up the UK’s first masters degree in architectural history and in 1989 with Ian Latham founded Architecture Today, which he edited until 2005. He was subsequently head of the architecture school at Oxford Brookes and then the first holder of the James Stirling chair of architecture at Liverpool, where he is now emeritus professor. His books include Homes fit for Heroes and Architecture and the Welfare State. Professor Swenarton will be discussing aspects of his most recent and acclaimed book Cook’s Camden: The Making of Modern Housing (Lund Humphries, 2017)


The housing projects built in Camden in the 1960s and 1970s when Sydney Cook was borough architect are widely regarded as the most important urban housing built in the UK in the past 100 years. The schemes – which included Alexandra Road, Branch Hill, Fleet Road, Highgate New Town and Maiden Lane – set out a model of street-based housing that continues to command interest and admiration from architects to this day. Cook recruited some of the brightest talent available in London at the time, including Neave Brown, Benson & Forsyth and Peter Tabori, and also commissioned up-andcoming practices such as Colquhoun & Miller, Edward Cullinan and Farrell Grimshaw. The Camden projects represented a new type of urban housing based on a return to streets with front doors. In place of tower blocks, the Camden architects showed how the required densities could be achieved without building high, creating a new kind of urbanism that integrated with, rather than broke from, its cultural and physical context. This book examines how Cook and his team created this new kind of street-based housing, what it comprised, and what lessons it offers for today.