Michael Neylan (1931-2012)

Compassionate egalitarian whose prize-winning housing valued both the individual and the community

Bill Ungless
Bill Ungless

Michael neylan studied at Kingston School of Architecture when Jo Chamberlin, Geoffrey Powell and Christopher Bon taught there. Although all three were part of the modern movement they also looked to history for their ideas, and this two-fold way of looking at architecture set Michael on a course which he was to follow throughout his professional life.

After Kingston, he went to work for Chamberlin, Powell and Bon. We applied ourselves quietly to our drawing boards and, from time to time, became aware of Michael padding to and fro considering a problem, always with fierce concentration on his face. It was generally accepted that the disturbance was worthwhile because of the quality of the solutions which emerged. After pacing, he would return to his board and sketch out beautifully and clearly his preferred option.

At one o’clock he would emerge from his private world and at lunch would engage with everybody. The subjects of his conversation could range from Persia (from whence he had recently returned), to his aunt’s bamboo bicycle (about which he seemed inordinately chuffed), or indeed any subject which involved ideas with which he could grapple. 

It was not merely abstract ideas which interested him. I remember once chatting as we walked back from lunch through Pelham Crescent, South Kensington. Suddenly he lengthened his stride and set off counting his paces. He was comparing the size of this space with the central place in a housing-scheme he was designing for a competition in Bishopsfield, Harlow. This application of historical precedent to a building shows how strongly he felt the physicality of architecture.
He won the Bishopsfield competition, aged 24, which showed elegantly and effectively how to provide buildings where an individual might feel at home in the community. This was in reaction to the prevailing view that the key to new housing was technological efficiency. 

Getting Bishopsfield off the ground had been stressful for Michael but it won a Civic Trust Award and is now a conservation area. 

When we formed Neylan & Ungless, Bishopsfield’s acclaim helped the practice find work for other urban sites and we developed ideas for low-rise, high-density housing from one site to the next over the coming 30 years. Probably the most successful was the Setchell Development in south east London, which won a DoE Good Design in Housing Award. 

Michael was a compassionate man whose religion was central to his life. He believed everybody should be treated equally where possible and this found expression in Bishopsfield, where every dwelling had a private open space and a front door at ground level. Though high density, and consisting of many similar sized units, the scheme was designed in such a way that everybody could identify with their own particular dwelling, as well as with their community as a whole. 

Society is lucky that Michael’s ideas were made concrete in his buildings, for future generations to unpick and be inspired by, and research is being undertaken into the work of Neylan & Ungless by Emily Greeves Architects, supported by the RIBA Research Trust.

Michael Neylan is survived by his wife Dr Catherine Neylan, two daughters and a son. 


Bill Ungless




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Rustom Sohrab Rustomji, elected 1952, Karachi, Pakistan
Edward John Saunders, elected 1965, Derby
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Sydney James Hanchet, elected 1950, Frinton-on-Sea, Essex
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Warren Peter Smith, elected 1965, London
John Spencer Taylor, elected 1947, Todmorden, Lancashire
Douglas Vernon Abrahams, elected 1973, France
Niall Philip Campbell Macdiarmid, elected 1971, Uckfield
Jack William Davey, elected 1958, Rickmansworth, Herts
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Thomas Hynd Duncan, elected 1956, Edinburgh
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