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Brian Anson - Activist/Architect/Artist


The organisers of EASA Ireland are proud to announce the presence of Brian Anson at the Assembly between the 9th and 24th of August. Brian Anson has been an advocator of community inclusion in the process of design and architecture for over fifty years and he promises to play a fundamental role in EASA 2008.

Born into into a working class background in Liverpool, England in 1935, he worked as an urbanist and planner in his native city and the city of Dublin in 1960s. In 1969 and 1970 he worked tirelessly for the preservation of Covent Garden, a small inner city borough of London.The buildings and the community dwelling there were under threat of total annihilation by a group of developers and local planning authorities,instilling a policy which had ripped the heart out of England's post Industrial cities through out the decade. After rounding the local community and after group consultations, a proposition and compromise was reached which was deemed acceptable by the local authorities. Covent Garden was saved and has since been seen as a successful regeneration project, where old buildings and existing communities can be adapted and evolve without their total demise. Its model has served as a precedent for other projects, most notably the Temple Bar regeneration project in Dublin. A book was published in 1981 entitled "I'll Fight You For It", outlining the Covent Garden struggle.

As a result of the Covent Garden success, Brian was accepted by the Architectural Association where he acted as Unit Master from 1972. It was here that Brian was involved with discussions and debates with architects such as Peter Cook, expressing and reiterating the importance of community involvement. Growing slowly disillusioned with the path his colleagues were taking, he strove to create an alternative future to the profession through the founding of the Architects Revolutionary Council (ARC). Brian Anson realised that the problems plaguing the profession, i.e. the pandering to developers and lack of ground roots community communication were a result of a deeply flawed education system. His reaction to this was the foundation of the Schools of Architecture Council (SAC) in 1979.

brian Anson

The role of the SAC was a body whose purpose was to show an alternative to the formal education, then on offer in the schools of architecture. Brian Anson was elected president of the organisation by the students as a protest against the established schools. In summer 1979, over 800 students attended a gathering in a tower block in Sheffield. Students from all over England exchanged ideas and created their own educational systems and architectural proposals, independent of a main organisation. The gathering was repeated in Hull the next year but unfortunately, the SAC was dissolved in 1981. The momentum did not dissipate however and its framework was recycled in the form of the Winter Schools, one of which was held in Anson's native Liverpool. The Winter School was such a success that the students, among them Richard Murphy decided to invite students from around Europe and England to investigate the urban blight of decay then ravishing the city. This organised gathering, void of any political agenda or motivation would be later regarded as the first European Architecture Student Assembly. It was the legacynof an idea which had germinated in the winter schools of the late 1970s.

Brian Anson continued his community work. He was invited by the community of Gaoth Dobhair, Donegal to propose suggestions for the retention of a culture and a language under siege by inept planning authorities. A dossier was published, outlining coherent plans for future development. It was a plan which had grown from the roots of the community and despite having a lack of the Irish-Gaelic language, Anson portrayed a deep and profound understanding for the people and their history, with a future full of hope. He envisioned a community that would become self dependent over time, utilising and mobilising it's innate skills and practices. It was rejected however, as being far too radical. Unfazed, Anson took part in the Mobile Unit Scheme between 1983 and 1986. He travelled as part of a team in a converted camper van through Britain and Ireland, uniting community groups and causing a media flurry where ever he went. His journeys brought him form the post-industrial collier towns of Thatcherite England to the war scarred streets of Belfast. It was here that the story of the Divis Street flats came to the fore. Anson unveiled a woefully inadequate housing scheme, where a British Army base was built practically atop the residents dwellings. The case was brought to London and received full media attention at the time. A campaign was instigated which led to eventual demolition of the complex.

Brian Anson has been living in France since 1991 where he has been painting, reading and writing his views on architecture and its possible future. He has run a series of annual modules in the University of Birmingham where students from around the world exchange views and learn from Brian's vast experience of working within a local and community framework. It is the privelege and honour of EASA Ireland to have him as a tutor and speaker at the Assembly this August and without a doubt, he will play an integral part in the proceedings.




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