Every single one of us in our day to day working lives helps to shape the future of UK property. Today’s built environment is testament to the centuries of hard work and persistence from inspiring and influential personalities. Whether it’s pioneering social housing developments or creating some of the most iconic structures of our time, the property industry is the product of a multitude of talent, past and present, who each have left their unique legacy.
In this article we celebrate 8 of the most (arguably!) influential people who through their foresight, determination and creativity have helped shape the property industry that we work in today.
Octavia Hill (1838 – 1912) one of social housing’s most prominent figures and her pioneering work has laid the foundations for today’s profession of ‘housing management’. Hill fought for better living conditions for some of the poorest communities in Victorian London and is often referred to as the founder of modern social care.
From the age of 14 Hill worked tirelessly for the provision of safe and comfortable homes for poor working-class communities around London, believing that they had been failed by both government legislation and landlords. In 1864, her friend, art critic and social reformer John Ruskin, who was a big supporter of her cause, purchased three houses in Paradise Place, Marylebone. These were notorious slums which were better known as ‘Little Hell’. Ruskin placed these houses under Hill’s management. With prudent supervision, close personal contact with her tenants and weekly checks of the conditions of the buildings, Hill turned the estate into a harmonious community with improved housing and communal facilities. In 1866 Ruskin placed more houses in Freshwater Place and Barrett’s Court under Hill’s management, and by 1874 she was overseeing 15 housing schemes with 3000 tenants.
Hill believed that housing management was a joined-up service that was more than just about putting a roof over someone’s head, she advocated a holistic view that included the tenant’s life, job security, well-being, health and happiness.
Her methods became a model for subsequent housing associations and spread to other countries. In addition, Hill passionately campaigned for the preservation of open green spaces, believing it was imperative for the health and happiness of all people, not just the privileged few, and fought against development on existing suburban woodlands, helping to save London’s Hampstead Heath and Parliament Hill Fields from being built on. She was the co-founder of the National Trust, which she helped set up to protect places of historic interest or natural beauty, giving the ordinary British public access to the countryside and its beautiful buildings and sights.
Octavia Hill made a lasting impact on the development of social housing and her methods and principles are as relevant today as they were then. Her legacy lives on in the form of today’s Octavia Housing, which continues to provide homes for thousands of people in inner-city London.
Barbara Bodichon née Leigh Smith (1827 to 1891) was one of the most influential feminists and women’s rights activists of the 19th century and was a leading proponent behind the passing of the Married Women’s Property Act 1870. This groundbreaking reform gave married women the right to keep any wages and property that they earned through their own work or inherited, giving them financial independence from their husbands for the first time. Until the act was passed, married women had few legal rights, and a woman’s estate was automatically controlled by her spouse.
Bodichon was the illegitimate daughter of Anne Longden, a milliner, and Ben Leigh Smith, a radical Whig politician. Her parents were never married but lived openly together, which caused a huge societal scandal. Their home was frequently the meeting place for various activists and political refugees, inevitably making her resilient to controversy from an early age. Her father was an advocate for women’s rights and treated all of his five children equally. On their 20th birthdays, he gave each one £300, which meant Barbara was able to live autonomously from her family.
Bodichon married French physician Eugene Bodichon. She became a harsh critic of the existing legal system that did not protect the property and earnings of married women, who had fewer rights than widows and single women, so called femes sole. Bodichon openly contested the status quo and in 1854 published “A Brief Summary of the Laws in England concerning Women”, paving the way for the 1870 Married Women’s Property Act, which meant that any wages and property a wife earned through own work or indeed inherited would be regarded as separate property from her husband’s, finally releasing them from coverture (a wife’s subordinate legal status during marriage). The act was further extended in 1882 to all property, regardless of its source or time of acquisition, cementing the property rights of married women.
Bodichon was politically active all her life and pursued many causes passionately. She formed the first Women’s Suffragete Committee in 1866, published articles and pamphlets on the subject of women’s rights and worked tirelessly on extending university education for women, generously donating and raising funds to help set up the first women’s college in Cambridge, Girton College. She is arguably one of the most forward-thinking and influential women of all time.
Hailed as one of the 20th century’s most prominent British radicals, David Lloyd George was the first and only Welshman as well as last Liberal Democrat to hold the office of Prime Minister between 1916 and 1922. Born in Manchester in 1863 but raised in Caernarvonshire by his uncle, he became Liberal MP for the Caernarvon constituency aged 27.
He was a dreaded debating opponent due to his scathing wit and sharp tongue, and a huge force for social reform, which not only saw him introduce state pensions for the first time, but also declaring a war on poverty, which was epidemic at the time. This was perpetuated by squalid, slum-like living conditions and consequently poor health of many working class, especially those who had joined the army and returned from the Great War. Until then, social housing was all but non-existent, and it was evident that the country faced an acute shortage of affordable and adequate accommodation. This changed with Lloyd George’s popular landmark promise to “build homes fit for heroes” – a reference to the returning soldiers of WWI – which paved the way for ‘The Housing and Town Planning Act of 1919’, also known as ‘The Addison Act’. It was the first large-scale government intervention to build housing for social use and a watershed moment in the provision of social housing, making it a national responsibility rather than being left in the hands of greedy and unregulated private builders. Local authorities were given subsidies to build new houses, and the cost was spread between tenants, the Treasury and local councils, with the aim to build half a million homes over the following three years. Although it took until 1933 for this goal to be achieved, as the economy rapidly weakened thanks to the 1921 recession, the ‘Addison Act’ was the launch pad for subsequent housing programs over the next decades and is widely recognised as having laid the foundations for the social housing we know today. David Lloyd George died in 1945, and although he was often a controversial figure during his political career, his legacy is still felt today.
Aneurin Bevan (1897 – 1960) may be most famous for having spearheaded the establishment of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948, but his other, no less impactful and towering achievement was his contribution to British housing. Bevan, who served as Welsh Labour politician and Minister for Health and Housing in the post WWII Attlee government between 1945 -51, introduced the landmark 1949 Housing Act, removing the restriction of public housing to the working classes and for the first time making it available to all. The initiative enabled local authorities to acquire homes for improvement or conversion with 75 per cent Exchequer grants, in addition to providing housing improvement grants for private landlords and owner occupiers. Bevan had witnessed the poor, damp, overcrowded conditions many people lived in following the end of the Second World War, with badly built houses and poor sanitation. 25 per cent of homes had been destroyed during the war, and no new homes built for six years, which left much of the population – and especially soldiers returning from the war – homeless or living in dire circumstances. Bevan’s 1949 Housing Act not only put the onus on the establishment of new housing developments on the state, but also set a new standard for the quality of council houses. His insistence on good, solid design, increased space and the provision of an upstairs and downstairs toilet – certainly a revolutionary idea at a time when outside WCs were the norm – means that post war council housing remains among the most well-built and popular property developments, even today. Three quarters of a million traditional brick homes were built by councils between 1945 and 1953, and Bevan earned his place in the history books as one of the most revered politicians of his time, widely credited for his contribution to the founding of the welfare state.
Even if you haven’t heard of Norman Foster, you will most certainly recognise some of the buildings and constructions this globally acclaimed British architect has created during his nearly six-decade long career to date. From the Millennium Bridge to the ‘Gherkin’ in London, the restored Berlin Reichstag or HSBC headquarters in Hong Kong to the Apple Park in California, he has designed some of the most iconic structures of our time and is recognised as one of the most influential architects of his generation and the UK’s most prominent creator of landmark office buildings.
Born in 1935 in Stockport, Cheshire, he took an early interest in engineering and the process of design and graduated from Manchester School of Architecture and City Planning in 1961, later gaining an MA at Yale School of Architecture in 1962. His company Foster + Partners has become famous for high-tech architecture with a distinct, sharp-edged modernity featuring sleek, contemporary designs of steel and glass with innovation in contouring and inner space management.
There are far too many architectural masterpieces created by Foster to list, but key developments include Millau Viaduct in Southern France, the tallest bridge in the world, Wembley Stadium, London City Hall, Hearst Tower New York City, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich, Kuala Lumpur’s Troika Towers, Frankfurt’s Commerzbank as well as Hong Kong International Airport.
In 1999 he was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, often referred to as the Nobel Prize of architecture. He continues to be a champion of innovative, sustainable and environmentally sensitive design, with some of his firm’s recent and current standout projects including a Droneport in Central African Republic, the Haramain High Speed Rail in Saudi Arabia and Comcast Innovation & Technology Centre in the US.
Lady Anne Clifford (1590 – 1676) is the first woman recorded in British history to have led building projects. The last member of one of England’s great medieval dynasties, she spent 44 years of her life in an epic and fierce legal battle to gain control of her inherited property portfolio, much of which was left in ruin until she finally took control and restored it to its former glory.
Lady Anne was born as the daughter of George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, an extravagant courtier at Queen Elizabeth’s court, and his wife Margaret. The family estates, spread all across the North of England, were vast and included five magnificent castles, including Skipton, Brougham, Brough, Pendragon and Appleby. When her two brothers died at a young age, she became the only surviving child of the family, but was shocked to learn that her father had snubbed her and left the lands and his titles to his brother Francis and his heirs instead. This constituted a blatant breach of an entail dating back to the early 14th century which stipulated that the estates should have passed to the eldest heir, male or female, and triggered Lady Anne’s lifelong legal battle against her uncle and later his son Henry, defending her right to inherit.
With only the unwavering support of her mother, her two marriages failed under the strain of the ongoing legal disputes, Lady Anne continued her quest and it was only in 1643, when her cousin Henry died, that she regained ownership and full access to the Clifford family’s lands.
In 1649, after the Civil War, Lady Anne Clifford, by then aged 60, moved back North and spent the last three decades of her life painstakingly restoring all five castles, as well as building alms-houses for poor widows and repairing a number of churches in the area. She remains a highly celebrated figure in the history of Northern England, applauded not only for her epic legal fight but also her wonderful restoration work.
Paul Teicholz is Professor Emeritus for civil engineering at Stanford University and founder of the Center for Integrated Facility Engineering (CIFE), which has helped revolutionise and improve the building process with the use of interdisciplinary IT solutions.
Teicholz recognised the potential for computers to transform the construction industry as a graduate student, when programming was still done on punch cards, and went on to spend 25 years in the industry developing computer applications for building and construction projects before founding CIFE in 1988, a collaboration between the Civil Engineering and Computer Science departments at Stanford University. Under his lead, the centre became the launchpad for a ground-breaking new program, Building Information Modeling ( BIM), introducing a novel approach to design, construction and facility management in which a digital representation of every aspect of the building process is used to create and manage information on a construction project. BIM has become the industry-standard system and is used the world over to successfully plan, manage and complete construction projects.
During his career Teicholz has been recognised with multiple awards, most notably the Henry C. Turner Prize for Innovation in Construction Technology in 2006, one of the most prestigious awards the industry has to offer.
Ethel Mary Charles (1871 – 1962) was the first woman architect to join the prestigious Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 1898, followed by her sister Bessie Ada Charles, who became the second woman in 1900.
Ethel Mary Charles was barred from attending the Architectural Association School on the grounds that she was a woman, so instead she trained at the Bartett School of Architecture and completed the course with distinctions. She undertook an apprenticeship with Ernest George and later became an assistant to Arts & Crafts architect Walter Cave, where she developed a particular interest in Goth and domestic architecture. In the end, Ernest George vouched for her abilities and skills, which led to her admission to the RIBA, despite opponents launching a campaign against her on the grounds that “it would be prejudicial to the interest of the institute to elect a lady member”. However, RIBA president at the time, Professor George Aitchison, dismissed this as ridiculous, “given the spirit of the age, to deny her and any other woman admission”. Ethel Mary Charles was granted full membership, with 51 voting in favour and 16 against.
Despite this pioneering achievement, architecture remained a male dominated world. Even though her main interest was in commercial commissions and large-scale developments, Charles struggled to obtain contracts for these projects, as these were reserved for men, and instead had to focus on modest housing projects and labourers’ cottages. However, Ethel Mary Charles was arguably the first role model for aspiring female architects at the beginning of 20th century and inspired generations of female architects that followed. Last year RIBA launched its inaugural International
Women in Architecture Day under the banner #EthelDay now an annual event celebrating the achievements of women in architecture.