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Brian Anson - Architect, Story Teller, Poet, Revolutionary... passed away over the weekend

category national | housing | news report author Monday November 23, 2009 20:41author by dunk - bold collectiveauthor email fuspey at yahoo dot co dot ukauthor address BCN Report this post to the editors

From Donegal and Clare, and Connaught and the Munster hills...... Your plea is remembered and we battle on, energised by your passion

Brian Anson - Architect, Story Teller, Poet, Revolutionary

Inspiration (1934-2009)

Brian Anson passed away over the weekend after being inflicted with a sudden illness.

Audio documentary; Stories of architecture and social struggle with Brian Anson
Brian Anson - Architect, Story Teller, Poet, Revolutionary... painting for kids book
Brian Anson - Architect, Story Teller, Poet, Revolutionary... painting for kids book

Im sure people up on Belfast`s Divis street and amongst the quiet green Donegal fields of Gaoth Dobhair will be thinking about a strange English man who came to their respective communities during times of war, listened to their stories and did his damdest to assist them in their fight for the kind of world they wanted.

Brian Anson was a very special person, his life was filled with struggle, wins and losses. I had the pleasure to meet him in Letterfrack at a European architectural summer school in 2008, we shared stories and dreams, we talked about hope and love and loss and life, we talked about what a fair world would look like and what kind of journey has to be taken to get there. We laughed, drank the odd pint of stout together and became friends, since then we kept in contact via email and phone, he passed on much of his poetry, and I came to know this man better and know of the love he had for Ireland, her sad strange story and her people.

I received the sad news of Brians passing from one of his friends in Divis Street campaign in Belfast. How strange the news came, as I was only listening to Brian during the last few days communicate his dreams, stories and pains in the interview we did with him in Letterfrack.

Full articles about his life and work can be found at

Brian Anson - Activist/Architect/Artist

Brian Anson - news of his death

You can listen to the 2 radio recordings we did with him in Letterfrack at:
Stories of architecture and social struggle with Brian Anson

British soldier report about Divis St flats

Over the course of a 15 year period, beginning in February, 1972 and March, 1987, seven soldiers lost their lives in or around the Divis Street flats.

Some of his poetry can be found at
Response to the "Coming out as an artist" blog - from visionary yet definitely not hooked up Architect Brian Anson

I leave you with his poem and earlier bio.

Sleep well Brian my friend, thank you for sharing your passion.

From Donegal and Clare, and Connaught and the Munster hills...... Your plea is remembered and we battle on, energised by your passion


(Written in dedication to the book of poetry and prose - PASS THE VALIUM MARTHA - the voice of the Bootle working-class published by the Liverpool Writers Workshop in 1982.)

Glory be to you oh Martha, you threw the bottle in the bin and
stamped your swollen foot upon the pills that they.
who brutalise and blind, and slave and kill your kind,
create to cure your ills.

We must resist; we can insist that, deep within our people
is the culture that they took to store within their banks,
without a word of thanks, and surely
that is why you wrote the book.

But Martha love the road is long - we tread our separate paths
to find ourselves, and who we were –
and for my part, I chose the gaels,
and rediscovered Bootle in the Irish air.

To move from concrete Bootle, and its jobless hordes who pace the
unemployment boards, have I digressed to find the truth
I seek amongst the rocks and empty cabins
of the windswept Irish west?

Well hear my plea, and see my broken heart: and let us start with
Donegal and Clare, and Connaught and the Munster hills......
within them, and the turmoil of the poet bards (your ancestors oh Martha sweet)
we find the very source of Bootle’s ills.

To tell the tales of common folk
they had no need for fancy words,
or to embroider it; like Common Joe (in your own words)
they didn’t” peddle shit”

They spoke of landlords, gombeen men, the bailiffs and their ilk who,
while they robbed the people of their voice,
bought finery and silk and lived in stately homes and
passed their laws in parliaments obscene while,

in the mist, the common voice lived on though - pity dear oh Martha love -
the common mouth turned green from eating grass to keep themselves alive -
not only for their body and their soul -
but also that their poetry survive to tell the tale of what was done by conquerors

to keep the people down and here’s the rub (oh Martha sweet)
those lace-clad villains were the same who,
through their lust for power,
ravaged through the streets of Bootle town.

The mildewed thatch and earth-clod walls of cabins battered by the gales,
with hungry children and the unemployed, are but the parents of
the concrete bunker cells where sorrow, misery and debt exist
within the high-rise gaols.

But Gaelic poets did not die: through centuries of pain
they wandered through their ravaged glens,
and used their songs and used their pens,
to give the peoples’ word again.

And so, in Bootle, do the same (your enemies were theirs)
they’ll rape your streets and steal your land, and crucify your soul:
they’ll mutilate your children and put you on the dole:
but your voices they can never kill - the poet always cares.

So darling, dearest, Martha, this is the way I took
to try to understand the pain within my childhood land,
and why I sigh - to reason why -
you had to write your book.

So dearest love I honour you for doing what you did:
for bringing forth the common word,
that it be heard, and be a sword, to point out Bootle’s ills so
do not Pass the Valium.......just throw away those pills.

Brian Anson
London 1982

Brian Anson (1934-2009)

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.

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.

Divis Street flats - scene of one of Brian Anson`s architectural battles
Divis Street flats - scene of one of Brian Anson`s architectural battles

From Donegal and Clare, and Connaught and the Munster hills...... Your plea is remembered and we battle on, energised by your passion
From Donegal and Clare, and Connaught and the Munster hills...... Your plea is remembered and we battle on, energised by your passion

Brian Anson tells the next generation the story of the battle of Divis Street
Brian Anson tells the next generation the story of the battle of Divis Street

Sláinte agus go mbeirfidhmuid beo ar an ám seo arís agus go bhfeidhmuid bás le siocháin
Sláinte agus go mbeirfidhmuid beo ar an ám seo arís agus go bhfeidhmuid bás le siocháin


Brian Anson talking about the architectural battle to have the Divis street Flats knocked during times of war


BOLD interview Brian Anson regarding architecture, education, ecology and social change.

author by rianorr - nonepublication date Mon Nov 23, 2009 23:13author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thank you bold collective for the audio, interesting conversations with an interesting man.

Wonder what all those Tiger cub architects are going to do now.
Strange that a self professed socialist seemed shocked to be thrown out of the professional club
when he challenged its power structures.

Where can I get my hands on a the book mentioned on Covent garden.

author by Dunkpublication date Tue Nov 24, 2009 11:03author address author phone Report this post to the editors

To whom it may concern,

Brian has been a friend for some 25 years, his thinking, writing and actions have influenced me greatly. He combines a considerable intellect with a deeply felt social conscience. his opinions about contemporary issues such as the suffering of the neglected sections of society, about life in cities and the function and form of architecture are extremely pertinent.

As a community leader in Belfast, Covent garden and Hoxton he has worked to improve the environment of the disadvantaged. when Mark Fischer and i were writing our book entitled “A New London”, we asked Brian to advise us.

Now he lives in France where he thinks and writes. We correspond regularly and he never lets me forget that there is another world, a much more important world than the world i usually serve.

I can not recommend Brian more highly other than to say that he is one of the very few people who is passionately concerned and has a deep understanding about the state of contemporary society and most rare he knows how to communicate this to others

Brian, like a few other unique people I have had the good fortune to know, has a touch of genius, I hope you will give him the chance to communicate this.

Lord Rogers


London - Summer 2008


Above letter is transcribed from the Letterfrack letter, which we read from while talking to Brian in 2008

Richard Rogers - AA Dipl, M Arch (Yale), RIBA, RA (Hon), FAIA (Hon), Dr RCA (Hon), BDA (Hon)

Richard Rogers is the 2007 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate, the recipient of the RIBA Gold Medal in 1985 and winner of the 1999 Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Medal. He is also winner of the 2000 Praemium Imperiale Prize for Architecture, the 2006 Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement (La Biennale di Venezia) and the 2007 Tau Sigma Delta Gold Medal. Richard Rogers was awarded the Légion d’Honneur in 1986, knighted in 1991 and made a life peer in 1996.


author by Finnpublication date Tue Nov 24, 2009 11:39author email wineforwool at orange dot frauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

Dear All,

Thank you so much for the kind and uplifting words for Brian.

My father was a remarkable man. I possibly did not see it as much as his comrades throughout the world, as I remained always his tear-away son.

Often I said to Pop, 'You are my father, my teacher and a friend'

I miss him dearly but know, fullwell, the hills will resound with laments at his passing and ever the people he loved will remember him.

Go raibh mille maith agat!!!!

Finn Anson

author by dunkpublication date Mon Dec 21, 2009 19:05author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Architect, planner and tireless battler on behalf of the underdog

Small in stature, but wiry, resilient and endowed with talents that grew over time, Brian was a wonderful wordsmith, a considerable artist, a beautiful draughtsman and a true raconteur and revolutionary.

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