William Holford, Baron Holford
22 March 1907|
Johannesburg, South Africa
|Died||17 October 1975
|Awards||Royal Gold Medal (1963)|
Clarendon House, Oxford
William Graham Holford, Baron Holford (22 March 1907 – 17 October 1975) was a British architect and town planner.
Holford was educated at Diocesan College, Cape Town and returned to Johannesburg. From 1925–30 he studied architecture at the University of Liverpool, where he won the British Prix de Rome in Architecture to the British School at Rome in 1930. While in Rome he met British mural painter Marjorie Brooks, who had independently won the British Prix de Rome for Painting, and married her in 1933. 
He was a lecturer at the University of Liverpool from 1933 and succeeded Patrick Abercrombie as Professor of Civic Design there in 1937. In 1948 he again succeeded Abercrombie as Professor of Town Planning at University College, London; a post he held until he retired in 1970.
Holford was knighted in 1953 and on 29 January 1965 he was made a life peer as Baron Holford, of Kemp Town in the County of Sussex by the Wilson Government, the first town planner to be made a Lord. He served as president of the Royal Town Planning Institute 1953–54, and of the Royal Institute of British Architects 1960–62.
Holford designed significant individual buildings, including Clarendon House in Cornmarket Street, Oxford, which was built in 1956–57 for F.W. Woolworth. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner commended Clarendon House in Oxford as one of the best recent buildings in the city's main shopping streets and showing "how this kind of job can be done tactfully and elegantly."
In 1960 Holford redesigned part of the former RAF Mount Farm, Oxfordshire to form the new village of Berinsfield. The architectural historian Jennifer Sherwood criticised Holford's plan as "an opportunity missed... little more than a huge council estate... with brick semis and terraces of the most dismal kind, sprawled out aimlessly along dreary streets..."
From 1961 Holford presented a series of plans to solve road traffic congestion at Piccadilly Circus, some of which included a raised piazza for pedestrians above the ground-level traffic. This concept was kept alive for the rest of 60s, before eventually being terminated by Sir Keith Joseph and Ernest Marples in 1972. The key reason given was that Holford's scheme only allowed for a 20% increase in traffic, whereas the Government wanted 50%.
Holford is particularly noted for his redevelopment plan of the area around St Paul's Cathedral in London which had been devastated by aerial bombardment in The Blitz. Only part of Holford's concept was carried out 1961–67, foremost the Paternoster Square development between St Paul's churchyard and Newgate Street. Due to the undistinguished design of the individual buildings by other architects and the omission of some of Holford's features, the new Paternoster Square soon became very unpopular. Its presence immediately north of one of the capital's prime tourist attractions was widely considered grim and an embarrassment. A redevelopment competition was launched in 1986 and after numerous changes in plans and architects, the new Paternoster Square was completed in 2003.
Brasília and Durban
Holford was a sought-after consultant outside the UK. In 1957 he was part of the committee selecting Lúcio Costa's plan for Brasília and in 1965–68 produced reports on the development of Durban in South Africa.
In the mid-1950s the Robert Menzies Government of Australia asked Holford to report on the planning and development of Canberra, which had become disorganised due to the Great Depression, World War II and post-war economic stringency. His report led to the creation of the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC), which controlled Canberra's development 1957–89, when the city as it exists today was created. He also advised extensively on Canberra's planning and this advice was largely accepted by the NCDC and led to the evolution of Canberra into a city of car-based suburbs based on the British New Town concept.
One unfortunate legacy is the NCDC's acceptance of his recommendation that the proposed new Parliament House be built on the banks of Lake Burley Griffin, rather than on Capital Hill. In 1978 the Parliament of Australia decided that Parliament House would be built on Capital Hill as proposed by its original planner Walter Burley Griffin. The use of the area that the Parliament House was to occupy under the Holford plan has never been fully resolved.
- Holford: A study in architecture, planning and civic design, by Iain Gordon Cherry, Gordon Cherry, L. Penny, page 234
- "Lord Holford". The Times. 20 October 1975.
- The London Gazette: . 13 February 1953.
- The London Gazette: . 2 February 1965.
- Sherwood & Pevsner 1974, p. 69.
- Sherwood & Pevsner 1974, p. 312.
- Pevsner 1960, p. 131.
- Pevsner 1960, p. 130.
- Pevsner 1960, p. 123.
- Sherwood & Pevsner 1974, pp. 451–452.
- "1980–1999". General Information. Paternoster Square.
- "A tribute to Lord Holford". Sydney Morning Herald. 4 November 1975.
- "Lord Holford had big role in Canberra". Canberra Times. 29 October 1975.
Sources and further reading
- Cherry, Gordon E.; Penny, Leith (1986). Holford. A study in architecture, planning and civic design. London and New York: Alexandrine Press. ISBN 0-7201-1786-0.
- Pevsner, Nikolaus (1960). Buckinghamshire. The Buildings of England. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. pp. 120, 123, 130, 131. ISBN 0 14 071019 1.
- Sherwood, Jennifer; Pevsner, Nikolaus (1974). Oxfordshire. The Buildings of England. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. pp. 69, 312, 406, 451–452. ISBN 0-14-071045-0.
- "(Professor Sir) William Graham Holford". Dictionary of Scottish Architects.