Colin Ward

Individual – United Kingdom

1924 – 2010

Colin Ward (1924-2010) was an architect and one of the leading figures of the UK anarchist movement; he wrote extensively on the welfare system and the social history of Britain, and in particular on issues of housing and planning. From 1947-1960 he was the editor of the anarchist newspaper, Freedom, and from 1961-1970 the editor of the journal Anarchy, gathering round him a group of writers and thinkers who would go on to be influential in their own right. Ward theorised a 'pragmatist anarchism' that looked towards removing authoritarian forms of organisation and governance in favour of informal and self-organised mechanisms based on non-hierarchical structures. Unlike other anarchists, Ward recognised that a wholly anarchist society was a theoretical impossibility, as universal consent was unlikely without the use of force or coercion. Ward's pragmatist anarchism thus strove for a freer society rather than a 'free society'.

Ward's writings are characterised by a combination of theoretical discussion on the nature of anarchism with a practical sensibility that looked for empirical results and solutions that could transform real-life situations and everyday living conditions. One of the key themes of his work was the promotion of cooperative self-help strategies, in the form of squatting, tenant cooperatives and self-build projects. Ward was an admirer of Walter Segal whose self-building system he saw as exemplary of such an approach to housing, promoting participation and dweller control. Much of Ward's later writing was historical in nature, in Cotters and Squatters he wrote a history of informal customs for the appropriation of land in Britain that included the Digger movement, the Plotlanders of southern England and the Welsh tradition of tŷ unnos, where a house is built in one night, which also has its echoes in the geçekondus of Turkey and the amateur building tactics of the global South. Other books uncovered the history of allotments or the creative ways in which children inhabit their environments.

Ward's writings did much to dispel popular myths and stereotypes associated with anarchism, as well as demonstrating the practical applicability of such an approach to a wide range of issues pertinent to architecture.

Key Projects

Other Work

David Crouch and Colin Ward, The Allotment; Its Landscape and Culture (Nottingham: Five Leaves, 1997).
---, Tenants Take Over (London: Architectural Press, 1974).

Colin Ward, Housing: An Anarchist Approach (London: Freedom Press, 1976).

---, The Child in the City (Pantheon Books, 1978).

---, 'Anarchy and Architecture: A Personal Record', in Non-plan: Essays on Freedom, Participation and Change in Modern Architecture, ed. by Jonathan Hughes and Simon Sadler (Lonndon: Architectural Press, 2000).

---, Cotters and Squatters: Housing's Hidden History (Nottingham: Five Leaves, 2002).

---, 'The Worldwide One-night House', Open Democracy, 2002, [accessed 27 October 2009].

---, The Hidden History of Housing (London: History and Policy, September 2004);

---, 'Walter Segal: Community Architect', Walter Segal Self Build Trust, [accessed 15 February 2010].

References About

Chris Arnot, 'Cunning Plots: Colin Ward [Profile]', The Guardian, 2002, [accessed 15 February 2010].

Paul Barnwell, 'Arcadia for all: the legacy of a makeshift landscape, by Dennis Hardy and Colin Ward [book review]', Vernacular architecture, 36 (2005), 124-125.

Dennis Hardy, 'Sociable cities: the legacy of Ebenezer Howard [by] Peter Hall and Colin Ward [book review]', Planning perspectives, 14 (1999), 214-215.

Stuart White, 'Making anarchism respectable? The social philosophy of Colin Ward', Journal of Political Ideologies, 12 (2007), 11-28.

'Colin Ward: Pioneer of Mutualism', Next Left, 2010 [accessed 15 February 2010].


"For me, and for people who want to make room for freedom of experiment in architecture and planning, the importance of flying the Non-Plan kite was the attempt to make room for do-it-yourself alternatives to the rival orthodoxies of the bureaucracy and of the speculative development industry. The attempt was not successful, but the fact that we discuss it 30 years later indicates what a rare challenge it was."

- Colin Ward, 'Anarchy and Architecture: A Personal Record', in Non-plan: Essays on Freedom, Participation and Change in Modern Architecture, ed. by Jonathan Hughes and Simon Sadler (Lonndon: Architectural Press, 2000), p. 51

"In the post-war decades popular mythology held that every acre of Britain was precious in the interests of agriculture. Farmers were free to destroy woodlands and hedges, drain wetlands and pollute rivers and water supplies in the interests of increased production. Now that the bubble of over-production has burst, the same people are subsidised for not growing and for returning habitats to what is seen as nature. This results in golf courses and publicly-financed set-aside.

Unofficial settlements are seen as a threat to wildlife, which is sacrosanct. The planning system is the vehicle that supports four-wheel-drive Range Rovers, but not the local economy, and certainly not those travellers and settlers seeking their own modest place in the sun. These people have bypassed the sacred rights of tenure, but still find their modest aspirations frustrated by the operations of planning legislation. Nobody actually planned such a situation. No professional planner would claim that his or her task was to grind unofficial housing out of existence, and nor would any of the local enforcers of the Building Regulations.
But all these unhappy confrontations are the direct result of public policy. Something has to be done to change it, and the hidden history of twentieth-century housing offers some currently unconventional models."

- Colin Ward, The Hidden History of Housing (London: History and Policy, September 2004);


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