Privacy, the Housing Research Unit at the University of Edinburgh and the Courtyard House, 1959–70

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This article contributes to the history of the idea of ‘community’ in post-war Scotland and England by examining what might appear to be the inverse of sociable neighbourliness, namely privacy. It begins with an extended discussion of the ways in which domestic privacy was considered in official documentation. It then turns to the introverted courtyard house as an approach in which ideas of privacy were significant, with particular reference to the work in Scotland of the University of Edinburgh’s Housing Research Unit in the 1960s. The Unit’s research involved the construction and evaluation of ‘live’ projects, as well as social surveys elsewhere. Privacy was a running theme in its work, shaping the design of estates in Cumbernauld and Prestonpans, and also being evident in evaluations of housing in use in Prestonpans and Dundee, where residents’ opinions were surveyed in detail. Overall, the article argues that the history of post-war housing needs to take account of the idea of privacy, not simply as understood by designers but also as it was experienced by residents. It also suggests that post-war housing history can be understood not simply in terms of improved standards but also the provision of new choices.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)327-358
Number of pages32
JournalArchitectural History
Early online date7 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2022


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