John Taylor obituary

Architect who developed a groundbreaking design for low-cost social housing in Sheffield

My good friend and mentor, John Taylor, who has died aged 88, was a highly talented architect who designed remarkable buildings.

In the 1970s he developed a groundbreaking design for low-cost social housing in Sheffield. He arranged smaller flats over larger ones in three-storey terraces, stepping back at each floor, thereby creating generous balconies on the two upper levels. Each flat is approached from those balconies, or from gardens on the ground floor, on the living-room side, as in traditional streets where front parlours face the pavement.

This is radically different from other deck-access designs where, to maintain privacy, much of the access is hidden from view. John’s design ensures “eyes on the street”, vital for the safety and self-policing of neighbourhoods. Each flat has a greenhouse porch and the decks have full-length planting boxes, resulting in a colourful display of hanging gardens for much of the year.

In all, more than 400 of these dwellings were built in Stannington, Heeley and Gleadless. They nestle into the hillside, easily reached with ramps and bridges from car parking at the end of each terrace. They are all wheelchair accessible, with no need for lifts and stairs.

John was born in Cookridge, Leeds, to Russell Taylor, a manufacturer’s manager, and Olive (nee Quilliam). He attended Leeds grammar school and in his teens developed a passion for ornithology. He kept a menagerie of rescued casualties, including a kestrel, which he trained. Love of the natural world never left him.

John Taylor’s flats in Stannington, Sheffield
John Taylor’s groundbreaking flats in Stannington, Sheffield, are still cherished by their occupants 40 years on Photograph: None

During his architecture degree at Leeds College of Art he did two years’ national service, and after graduation briefly worked for West Riding before moving to the Sheffield city department of planning and design in the mid-50s, where he stayed for his working life.

His first project there was the Castle Market, built in 1959. This intricate and popular building was demolished recently after 50 years of useful service.

His 1970s social housing flats are still cherished by their occupants, 40 years on. They are a testament to John’s genius for counter-intuitive, modest and humane design, domestic in scale, and adaptable to almost any site.

John saw the projects completed shortly before a change of government ended the era of council housebuilding. His design had the potential for further developments, including solar energy for heating; these remained unexplored as he became seriously ill and took early retirement in 1982.

In retirement he read the Guardian avidly, as well as works on environmental issues, history and philosophy.

He is survived by his wife, Marion Watson, his son, Rowan, daughter, Zoe, stepdaughter, Alison, and younger brother, Guy.

Johnny Blomfield

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
John McCall obituary
Other lives: Architect who was committed to civic provision and helped save properties from slum clearance in Manchester

Neville Kirk

04, Nov, 2020 @4:47 PM

Article image
Andrew Malone obituary
Other lives: Founder and chief executive of Nottingham Community Housing Association

Eleanor Malone

16, Apr, 2023 @4:44 PM

Article image
Christopher Alexander obituary
Architect and theorist who believed in creating human-centred buildings, drawing on new technology and ancient traditions

Howard Davis

29, Mar, 2022 @6:48 PM

Article image
Tony Crofts obituary
Other lives: Pioneer of the community land trust movement in England who turned his former pub car park into affordable housing

Fran Ryan

03, May, 2021 @4:53 PM

Article image
Ken Taylor obituary
Other lives: Architect whose development of Quay House played a part in the cultural regeneration of Peckham, south London

Mark Cousins

21, Apr, 2022 @2:25 PM

Article image
Ivor Smith obituary
Architect of Park Hill, Sheffield, the estate served by ‘streets in the sky’

Elain Harwood

01, Mar, 2018 @4:41 PM

Article image
Martin Taylor obituary
Other lives: Architect who retained a great enthusiasm for learning

Rebecca Taylor

10, Apr, 2019 @5:10 PM

Article image
Franklin Medhurst obituary
Other lives: Architect and town planner, author, campaigner and environmentalist

Victoria Medhurst

22, Oct, 2018 @4:22 PM

Article image
Alex Schweitzer obituary
Other lives: Co-founder of a Reminiscence Centre in London

David Schweitzer

24, Oct, 2021 @10:35 AM

Article image
John Warren obituary
Other lives: Architect, planner, architectural historian and artist

Philip Warren

22, Apr, 2018 @4:46 PM