John F. Charlewood Turner
( 1988 , Royaume-Uni )

...for championing the rights of people to build, manage and sustain their own shelter and communities.

When dwellers control the major decisions and are free to make their own contributions...both this process and the environmental produced stimulate individual and social well-being.


John F C Turner, born in 1927, has been involved for 40 years in developing the theory, practice and tools for self-managed home and neighbourhood building – in Peru, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Contact

51 St Mary’s Terrace
West Hill
Hastings
East Sussex
TN34 3LR
UK

Biography

Turner graduated in architecture from the Architectural Association in London in 1954 and worked in Peru for eight years from 1957, mainly on the advocacy and design of community action and self-help programmes in villages and urban squatter settlements. From 1965 he was for two years a Research Associate at the Joint Centre for Urban Studies of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University and then lectured at MIT until 1973. Returning to London, he was a lecturer at the Architectural Association and the Development Planning Unit, University College London, until 1983, when he resigned to devote himself full-time to his non-profit consultancy AHAS.

During these years, Turner’s many publications have had a great influence on housing policies worldwide. They include: Uncontrolled Urban Settlement: Problems and Policies, first published in 1966; and the books Freedom to Build, Dweller Control of the Housing Process(with Robert Fichter, Macmillan, 1972), and Housing by People: Towards Autonomy in Building Environments (Marion Boyars, 1976).

From 1983 through 1986, Turner was coordinator of the Habitat International Coalition’s NGO project for the UN International Year of Shelter for the Homeless (1987). Under this project, a global survey of local initiatives for home and neighbourhood improvement led to the report Building Community: A Third World Case Book, edited by Turner’s wife, Bertha, …

Turner graduated in architecture from the Architectural Association in London in 1954 and worked in Peru for eight years from 1957, mainly on the advocacy and design of community action and self-help programmes in villages and urban squatter settlements. From 1965 he was for two years a Research Associate at the Joint Centre for Urban Studies of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University and then lectured at MIT until 1973. Returning to London, he was a lecturer at the Architectural Association and the Development Planning Unit, University College London, until 1983, when he resigned to devote himself full-time to his non-profit consultancy AHAS.

During these years, Turner’s many publications have had a great influence on housing policies worldwide. They include: Uncontrolled Urban Settlement: Problems and Policies, first published in 1966; and the books Freedom to Build, Dweller Control of the Housing Process(with Robert Fichter, Macmillan, 1972), and Housing by People: Towards Autonomy in Building Environments (Marion Boyars, 1976).

From 1983 through 1986, Turner was coordinator of the Habitat International Coalition’s NGO project for the UN International Year of Shelter for the Homeless (1987). Under this project, a global survey of local initiatives for home and neighbourhood improvement led to the report Building Community: A Third World Case Book, edited by Turner’s wife, Bertha, and for which he wrote the introduction and conclusions.

Since his move from London to the south-coast town of Hastings in 1989, Turner has worked as a Trustee of the Hastings Trust, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the sustainable development of the town. This has provided him with an opportunity to confront the social and economic consequences of corporate urban-industrialism on his own home ground. Convinced that a sustainable civilisation has to be founded on local economies, he has concluded that a liveable future depends as much on regenerating the community base of the dominant industrial nations as on strengthening the surviving community-base of the exploited nations. He is concentrating his efforts on the search for two neglected elements and their dissemination: the ‘tools for building community’, so many of which are widely transferable, and the universal principles which guide successful adaptation.

 
 

FAQs about F. C. Turner

asked in 2005

1. What is the most important outcome of your work?  

This is a question that should be put to God or, at least, to historians if the thread that I hope I have been and still am contributing to is still evident. I label that thread the building and regeneration of “triple community” as distinct from its opposite “triple pollution” – which I mention in my reply to the third question below.

2. What are the tools for building community?

As my teacher and late friend Ivan Illich pointed out to me, literally anything can be used as a tool or instrument to do something, whether designed to do so or not. I regret making the mistake of using “tools for building community” in too broad a sense. I can only make partial amends by clarifying what I mean by “building community” and so referring only to those tools, whether technical, heuristic or managerial, when they are used for building community in the sense below.

3. What does the “perfect community” look like?

The short answer is that there can be no such thing on Earth. As offered above, I summarise (from work-in-progress) what I mean by “community”; inevitably leaving what I say wide open to misinterpretation:

From my reading on the “amoeba-word” ‘community’: I have found three complementary meanings so far:
From Herman Daly (RLA 1986) and John B Cobb’s “For the Common Good” (1990):
Communities of mutually tolerating persons (or individuals) within personal reach of one another, shearing a common interest that they can deal directly, through face-to-face or (ear-to-ear) relationships. Communities of mutually respecting persons, know to each other at no more than one remove, are therefore limited in size. Observations of territorial communities suggest that the maximum is around 4,000, the scale of a Greek polis, a mediaeval town a political ward in an urban borough or rural district in Britain.

From the above quoting Ferdinand Toennies:
Communities of communities of which non-totalitarian societies are built. Societies can be totalitarian, by definition, communities cannot be.
From Edward Hyam’s “Soil and Civilization” (1952):
The community of all life, whether seen as the biosphere, the Earth (or Gaia) of the Macro-cosmos.

The opposite is suggested by Illich’s essay “triple Pollution”: as interpreted in the Oxford English Dictionary “pollution” means defilement (of persons), dirtying or fouling (of habitat through dysfunctional human behaviour at all scales) and desecration of all life and the meanings genuine cultures give to it.

The “perfect” community must be one that builds itself in all three senses and pollutes in none.

4. What effect has the Right Livelihood Award had on your work?

It made me free to concentrate on my own priorities so, in effect, it underwrote all the work I have done since, almost all of which has been voluntary.