Basic Biographical Details

Name: Parker & Unwin
Designation: Architectural practice
Started: 1896
Ended: 1915
Bio Notes: Richard Barry Parker was born in Chesterfield on 18 November 1867, the son of Robert Parker, a bank manager. He was educated at Park Hurst, Buxton and studied at T C Simmonds Atelier of Art, Derby 1887-89 from which he took external examinations of the South Kensington Schools, having moved to London and spent some three months there. In the latter year he was articled to George Faulkner Armitage of Altrincham whose studio embraced furniture and textile workshops as well as architecture. In 1891 Parker's father was transferred to Buxton for health reasons. Parker joined him there, designing for him three large houses in Buxton while acting as clerk of works at Brockhampton Court, Herefordshire and Caerleon, Monmouthshire. In 1894 Parker commenced practice from home at one of these newly built houses, the Park at Buxton.

In 1896 Parker went into partnership with his older half cousin Raymond Unwin, born at Whiston, Rotherham on 2 November 1863, the second son of William Unwin, a tutor at Balliol College, Oxford and his wife Elizabeth Sully. He was also Parker's brother-in-law, having married his sister Ethel in 1893. Unwin was educated at Magdalen College Choir School, Oxford, where he became aware of the Socialist principles of John Ruskin and William Morris. In 1883 he settled in Chesterfield as an engineering apprentice and came into contact with the Socialist philosopher Edward Carpenter at Millthorpe, Sheffield; and in 1885 he obtained a post as an engineering draughtsman in Manchester where he was local secretary of William Morris's Socialist League, writing articles for its newspaper 'Commonweal'. In 1887 he moved again to the Staveley Coal and Iron Company in Derbyshire, and although he had no training in architecture, began planning mining communities for which he designed schools, chapels and churches.

The early work of the practice consisted mainly of large houses influenced by Voysey, Baillie Scott and the American Gustav Stickley of which Balnagowan, Edinburgh is one of the best examples. Unwin became convinced that Arts and Crafts principles should be applied to working-class housing, and in 1898-99 they published designs for co-operative housing, Unwin also writing an important paper 'Co-operation in Building'. This was followed by ‘The Art of Building A Home’ published in 1901 and by a second, more developed, paper by Unwin given at the Garden City Association conference in Bournville in September 1901 which brought the commission for the garden village of New Earswick from the Quaker cocoa refiners Joseph and Seebohm Rowntree. These publications were followed by tract entitled ‘College Plans and Common Sense’ in 1902.

In the following year the founder of the Garden City Movement, Ebeneezer Howard invited Parker & Unwin to advise on the site for Letchworth and in February 1904 Unwin won the limited competition for its layout. This in turn brought the commission for Hampstead Garden Suburb from Henrietta Barnett in February 1905 in which they worked in association with Edwin Landseer Lutyens. Their work and philosophy became well-known in America, Parker publishing thirty articles on Stickey’s magazine ‘The Carftsmen’ between 1902 and 1916.

In 1908-09 Unwin wrote ‘Town Planning in Practice’ a major work influenced by German practice and J S Nettlefolds ‘Practical Housing’ published in 1907. Together with his advocacy of town planning legislation from 1902 onwards, it made him an international authority on housing and town planning. He organised the International Town Planning Conference held in London in 1910 and his time became increasingly taken up with public sector work. In 1911 the RIBA appointed him a delegate to the Third National Conference and American City Planning Exhibition in Philadelphia, the Unwins subsequent tour of North America including Chicago and Montreal. On his return he became a lecturer at the University of Birmingham with an endowment from George Cadbury. Although these activities brought the partnership much new business, they left Parker almost wholly responsible for its management and the first steps towards dissolution were taken in 1914. The practice became Parker’s in May of the following year, Unwin having been appointed Town Planning Adviser to the Central Government Board in December 1914. Nevertheless in addition to a large general practice which included the enlargement of New Earswick in the 1920s Parker had a continuing town planning practice, advising on Oporto, Portugal in 1915 and Sao Paolo, Brazil in 1917-1919 and from 1927 Manchester City Council on the development of Wythenshawe where he had a continuing role until 1941. He died at Letchworth on 21 February 1947.

In 1915 Unwin was seconded to the Ministry of Munitions to design the villages of Gretna, Eastriggs and Queensferry, (Mancot Royal, Cheshire) and from 1917 had an influential role at the Tudor Walters Committee on working-class housing. His report was published in 1919, the year in which he was appointed Chief Architect to the newly formed Ministry of Health, a post which had become Chief Technical Officer for Housing and Town Planning by the time of his retirement in November 1928. He became technical adviser to the Greater London Regional Planning Committee on 1 January 1929 and largely wrote its two reports, the first published in that year and the second in 1933. From 1933 until 1934 he was chairman of the Building Research Board which he had helped found in 1920.

Unwin was President of the RIBA in 1931-33, was knighted in 1932 and received the RIBA’s Gold Medal in 1937. Unwin made an extended tour of North America in 1933-34 in the course of which he met the Roosevelts. This was followed by his appointment as visiting professor of town planning at Columbia University in September 1935. Throughout the later 1930s he continued to give advice to housing associations, universities and the British and US governments and was one of the founders of the School of Planning and Research for National Development with Frank Pick, Steen Eiler Resmussen and others, the preliminary meeting to set it up being held at his house. Unwin was lecturing in the USA when the Second World War broke out in September 1939. Unable to return home, he thereafter lived with his daughter Margaret Curtice Hitchcock (1899-1982) and it was at her house at Old Lyme, Connecticut that he died 28/29 June 1940 (not at her apartment in New York as sometimes stated). The Unwins had one other child, Edward, born 1894 who also became an architect and worked with his father on the Greater London plan but he predeceased him in 1936.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architectural practice:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 3Buxton, Derbyshire, EnglandBusiness1896  
Item 2 of 3Wyldes, North End, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, EnglandPrivate/business19071940Unwin's house and office
Item 3 of 3Norton Way, Letchworth, Hertfordshire, EnglandPrivate/businessBefore 1913 Parker's office

Employment and Training

Employees or Pupils

The following individuals were employed or trained by this architectural practice (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 4Richard Barry Parker18961915(?)Partner 
Item 2 of 4Raymond Unwin18961915Partner 
Item 3 of 4Bowland Brockman Moffat19021906Assistant 
Item 4 of 4Alfred Hugh MottramJune 1907September 1912Assistant 

Buildings and Designs

This architectural practice was involved with the following buildings or structures from the date specified (click on an item to view details):
 Date startedBuilding nameTown, district or villageIslandCity or countyCountryNotes
Item 1 of 21906BalnagowanMurrayfield EdinburghScotland 
Item 2 of 2c. 1909Hampstead Garden SuburbHampstead Garden Suburb LondonEngland 


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architectural practice:
Item 1 of 5Grove Dictionary of Art Grove Dictionary of Art   
Item 2 of 5Jackson, Frank1985Sir Raymond Unwin, Architect Planner and Visionary London 
Item 3 of 5Miller, M1989Letchworth the First Garden City   
Item 4 of 5Miller, M1992Raymond Unwin: Garden Cities and Town Planning   
Item 5 of 5New DNB New Dictionary of National Biography