John F. Charlewood Turner

Awarded 1988


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

John F C Turner (1927-2023) is known for developing the theory, practice and tools for self-managed home and neighbourhood building around the world, including in Peru, the United States and the United Kingdom.

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. Between 1965-1967 he was 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.

The key is the fact that material and human resources for building communities can be economically used only when it is locally controlled.

John F. Charlewood Turner, 1988 Laureate

During the years, Turner's many publications have had a significant 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.

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

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