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Harlow Master Plan

Harlow, Essex

Master Plan

Sector: Master Planning
Project stage: Complete

The original Master Plan for Harlow was prepared by Sir Frederick Giberd in 1947 and has been the framework within which the development of the town has taken place. Sir Frederick was responsible to the Development Corporation for the design of the new town and he advised the Council on their major development proposals. In 1978 Sir Frederick was appointed by the Council as Consultant Architect Planner.

Sites for new towns round London were identified in the Greater London Plan of 1944, the New Towns act passed two years later made them possible. The purpose of these new towns was to house people and industry, they were intended to be self- contained, balanced communities rather than satellites to London. The site for Harlow new town was identified to lie west of the existing Old Harlow village. The site was ideal for a new town; reasonably close to London, a large undeveloped rural area at the intersection of a motorway and with a main line railway.

The Master Plan was a design for the town as a whole to provide a framework for its development. The plan shows the relationship of different building typologies, and connects buildings in groups within the region and the landscape which seperates the built-up areas and extends into the surrounding countryside. In 1980 Sir Frederick wrote 'The Plan was concerned with three arts; Architecture, Road Design and Landscape Architecture. These three arts are fused to become town scenes or townscapes, the making of which is the art of Town Design.' 

The Master Plan laid down principles of design which have been carried out over the years and give Harlow an individual character. The original plan has an irregular bourndary, produced by the reorganisation of field patterns of surrounding farms and the use of natural features such as woodlands. 

Harlow was designed for a population of 60,000 but the experience in the first years of construction showed that more economical use could be made of the land and as a result the population was increased to 80,000 without change to the master plan. The basic functional plan of Harlow was developed from the kind of urban environment most people prefer. The plan defines distinct areas for living and industry with the focus of the design the town centre. The areas are conected  to one another by a system of main roads and surrounded by the Green Belt. The character of the existing site was used to give Harlow its own personality. The design used the form of the land as a foundation on which the design was built. Existing features including trees and buildings were preserved to give variety to the new town and provide a link with Harlow's historic past. The layout of building groups was arranged to preserve woods and tree belts, these were used to seperate built-up areas. Old lanes with headgrows and grass verges were preserved within the master plan to become foot and cycle paths.

The town centre is a long way from much of the housing, the town is divided by landscape into four districts, three of these have large shopping and social centres whilst the fourth relates to the Town Centre, each district was given its own identity with the feel and size of a small town. 

Dwellings of all kinds were built with large amounts of accommodation being subsidised housing within the cost limits imposed by the Government at the time. Each of the Housing Groups comprised of 80% two-storey housing with private gardens and the remainder a range of flated dwellings. An example of this principle of Mixed Development  is illustrated in the design of The Lawns, the tower block provided single person dwellings and a mix of two and three storey family dwellings provides adjacent. The Lawns was one of the first tower blocks to be built in the country and helped to give the town urban scale. The vertical design and careful sighting allowed seven mature oak trees to be retained on the site. The Lawns Development designed by Sir Frederick was awarded the Housing medal by the ministry of Housing and Local Government in 1951. Sir Frederick designed a number of projects which sat within the overall Master Plan and won a number of design awards for these.


1951 Housing Medal The Lawns

1954 Housing Medal Orchard Croft

1971 Civic Trust Award Harlow Campus

1971 Civic Trust Award Old Harlow Redevelopment of High Street Precinct

1975 European Architectural Heritage Award Old Harlow

1976 RICS/The Times Conservation Award Old Harlow