Brian Anson (1934-2009) passed away over the weekend after being inflicted with a sudden illness, he was a Liverpudlian, who came to Ireland to do what he could to help..
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
HOMAGE TO MARTHA
(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 (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.