Fry and Drew: Conference

‘The Influence of Fry and Drew’ Conference, Abstract 4

Christine Hui Lan Manley, ‘Modern City versus Garden City: Housing at Harlow New Town’.

During post-war reconstruction debates, Garden City supporters promoted low-density housing, while modernist architects advocated high-density high-rise regional planning. As members of the MARS Group, E. Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew fell into the latter camp, with Fry playing a key role in the development of the MARS Plan for London. The post-war New Towns program provided the ideal opportunity to test these new planning concepts, especially since a number of MARS Group members were commissioned to design the towns. Gibberd was selected to plan Harlow and was determined to create a modernist town with an urban character. Naturally, he turned to fellow MARS Group member Fry to design housing in the first neighbourhood, Mark Hall North.

In partnership with Jane Drew, Maxwell Fry designed housing groups ‘Tanys Dell’ and ‘The Chantry’ at Harlow. However, hampered by the low density recommendations, the housing in Mark Hall North was considered a ‘failure’ in 1953 by The Architectural Review. This paper seeks to examine the process involved with the design of the neighbourhood to show that a modernist agenda was, in this instance, compromised by the overpowering influence of the Garden City model.

By analysing the distribution and layout of housing in Mark Hall North, this paper will reveal how Gibberd, Fry and Drew sought to create higher density housing groups in an attempt to orientate the New Town toward the modernist high-density vertical city paradigm and away from the low-density Garden City planning model. However, government design publications and Ministry officials had envisaged Garden City type planning for the New Towns. This paper will argue that despite the various strategies employed by Gibberd, Fry and Drew at Mark Hall North, ultimately, the prevailing inclination toward Garden City planning restricted the creation of a modern urban character at this first neighbourhood in Harlow.

Christine Hui Lan Manley is currently completing her PhD at the Mackintosh School of Architecture. Her research centres on the concept of ‘urbanity’ – a notion which developed in Britain through architectural discourse during the 1940s and ’50s. Christine’s PhD research investigates how urbanity was defined and understood by the architectural avant-garde, and how the idea was applied to the design of housing in the Post-War New Towns.

Christine became interested in housing design whilst working for a London-based architectural practice, where she designed plans for high density sites and worked on innovative social housing schemes. Her interest in the development of housing in a historical context arose during research carried out during Diploma and Masters studies at the Mackintosh School. Christine is a member of the C20th Society and currently edits their ‘Building of the Month’ feature. Her PhD research is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

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