Inspirational women have been breaking barriers, paving the way, and making a positive impact on the world for centuries. They come from all walks of life, from the arts to science, from politics to sports, and they inspire us with their courage, determination, and achievements. Over the years, many talented and innovative female town planners have emerged from the UK, including several talented women who have made significant contributions to the field. So, as it is women’s history month, we thought we would look back at some of the British female town planners who have inspired us.
Octavia Hill (1838-1912)
Born in 1838 in Cambridgeshire, England, Octavia Hill is known throughout the United Kingdom and the world for her improvements in housing and for advocating for open, public spaces. Hill was deeply disturbed by the conditions of slums in Victorian London, so she convinced an investor to fund her concept for a new type of housing: one in which the landlord provides a clean and safe property, and in turn, the tenant is responsible for its maintenance. She purchased two properties and soon proved that the investment was a sound one. By 1874, she owned 15 properties with over 3,000 tenants. Another of her passions was public spaces, whether it was converting a hall for public events like concerts or campaigning for parks and other outdoor spaces as London grew in size. Hill was also a key figure in the development of the National Trust, a non-profit institution dedicated to the preservation of open countryside and historic properties throughout the UK.
Gertrude Lilian Jekyll (1843-1932)
Gertrude Lilian Jekyll was a pioneering landscape architect who was renowned for her work on public parks and private gardens. She was known for her innovative use of colour, texture and form in garden design, and her influence on garden design can still be seen today. Jekyll was also a passionate advocate for the protection of green spaces in urban areas and her ideas on urban greening have had a lasting impact on the development of town planning in the UK.
Jocelyn Frere Adburgham (1900-1979)
Jocelyn Frere Adburgham was a British architect and town planner, and the first woman admitted to professional membership of what is now the Royal Town Planning Institute. She played a significant role in contributing to radical new thinking about the design of social housing, especially in the period before World War II. In 1934, she was one of the founders of the Housing Centre, intended to promote the idea of modern, well-designed homes
During World War II, Adburgham was appointed to government committees seeking to shape post-war public housing policy. She was also a member of the Royal Academy planning committee that created a plan for the reconstruction of post-war London in 1942.
Jane Drew (1911-1996)
Dame Jane Drew was an English modernist architect and town planner. She qualified at the Architectural Association School in London, and prior to World War II became one of the leading exponents of the Modern Movement in London. At the time Drew had her first office, with the idea of employing only female architects, architecture was a male dominated profession. She was active during and after World War II, designing social and public housing in England, West Africa, India and Iran.
Sylvia Law (1931-2004)
Sylvia Law OBE was a British town planner who was the first woman to be elected as President of the Royal Town Planning Institute. She started work as a planning researcher with Kent County Council, and studied for her planning qualification at Regent Street Polytechnic in central London. Influenced by the work of planning pioneer Patrick Geddes, she developed strong socialist beliefs. Her work in Kent highlighted the damaging effects of suburban sprawl on the countryside and led to firmer policies of control on the development of the area. In 1964 she began working for the Greater London Council, primarily working on public open space provision and outdoor recreation issues, and remaining there until she retired in 1986. She was actively involved in the Countryside Recreation Research Advisory Group (CRRAG), which created a framework for planning for the recreational and open space needs of communities
Law was elected as a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute’s Council in 1965, remaining a member until 1978. She was elected as the RTPI President for 1974, becoming the first woman ever to hold the office, in the organisation’s sixtieth anniversary year. She was appointed OBE in 1975.
Zaha Hadid (1950-2016)
Known for her gloriously neo-futuristic style, Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid is certainly one of the most famous urban designers of our time. In 1980, she founded Zaha Hadid Architects, which completed over 900 projects in 55 countries around the world before her death last year. Hadid was also the first woman (and the first Muslim) to be awarded the prestigious Pritzker Prize. From her crystal-shaped Guangzhou Opera House in China, to the jigsaw design of the Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, USA, to the curves of the still-in-progress Al Wakrah Stadium in Qatar, her signature modern aesthetic has changed the future of our city skylines forever.
These British female town planners have made significant contributions to the field of town planning. Their innovative ideas, passion for green spaces and commitment to quality design have had a lasting impact on the development of town planning in the UK. These women continue to inspire and influence the work of contemporary town planners and their legacy will continue to shape the future of urban planning for generations to come.
We are proud to be an all female team of town planning consultants. For more information about how we can help, please get in touch.