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Raymond Unwin

Sir Raymond Unwin, engineer, architect, and town planner, was born in Rotherham, Yorkshire, on 2 November 1863. Following his family's move to Oxford in 1874, Unwin rejected a scholarship at Magdalen College (1881), and took up an engineering apprenticeship with an affiliate of the Staveley Coal and Iron Company at Chesterfield.

For two years from 1885 Unwin worked as an engineering draughtsman in Manchester. During this time he became the branch secretary of William Morris' Socialist League. Following the failure of the league's Manchester branch, Unwin returned to Staveley Coal and Iron Company as a chief draughtsman. He began by designing engineering equipment and then moved on to the problem of the layout and and standards of the facility.

From 1894, Unwin and Barry Parker, his brother-in-law, formed the architectural partnership of Parker and Unwin. Their early practice consisted, in the main, of arts and crafts homes for pregressive businessmen. These cottages were placed around an open green, with plans that portray large living rooms.

Parker and Unwin's first major planning commission came in 1903, which was the suburban workers' housing at New Earswick, York, for the Quaker Joseph Rowntree. This commission was quickly followed by the garden city of Letchworth. Here, Unwin was reponsible for the road layout, style, and grouping of houses. It was through these and later designs that the Parker and Unwin office trained and influenced the next generation of architects whose abilities were essential all the while that the garden city remained in vogue.

From 1906 Unwin's focus shifted towards the standards of housing. He took on many commissions on garden suburbs, of which the most successful was Hampstead Garden Suburb, Middlesex (1907). Following the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1909, Unwin's focus moved once again, but this time towards the creation of a national planning framework for low-density housing. This may have led to the partnership of Parker and Unwin dissolving in 1914, and Unwin's new position as chief town planning inspector to the Local Government Board. This post was the first of many in local government that ultimately led to the creation of 200,000 dwellings that had been built to the model of Unwin and Christopher Addison.

Later in Sir Raymond Unwin's career, he was made president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (1931-1933), and received the institute's gold medal in 1937. He was also knighted in 1932. From 1936 he accepted a visiting Professorship at Colombia University, New York. On 28th June 1940, aged seventy-six, he fell ill and died in Lyme, Conneticut.


Saint, A (2004) ‘Unwin, Sir Raymond (1863–1940)’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press: Oxford)

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