Kenneth John Campbell was born in Crofton Park, south London, on September 26th 1909. The son of a Lloyd’s insurance man, he was educated at St Dunstan’s school, Lewisham. He was then articled to his uncle’s architectural partnership, continuing to study for his RIBA finals at Regent Street Polytechnic. In 1933, he married Frances Almond, and joined the architect’s department of the Miners’ Welfare Commission. This role – at this juncture in history – clearly heavily impacted upon the young Ken Campbell. By 1938, he was responsible for the Miner’s Welfare West Midlands sector – and had joined the Communist Party.
Campbell signed up for war service but was allocated back to the Miners’ Welfare Commission, and was involved in designing the first pithead baths. For the period of the Blitz, he was seconded to the City of London on air-raid shelter design. In 1943, he began work on planning for London.
In the mid-1950s, Campbell was shortlisted for the job of chief housing architect for the London County Council. But the chair of the finance committee, having been alerted to his politics, opposed Campbell’s candidature. Going further than that, a postive embargo was put on any further promotion.
Eventually, however, as the McCathyism faded, Campbell became overall housing architect to the London County Council and its successor, the Greater London Council, in all from 1960 to 1974. He was appointed at a time when competition for such a job was fierce and Campbell was very lucky to overcome the ban on promotion arising from his Communist Party membership. In such a role, he was particularly successful in resisting pressure from politicians to use only prefabricated systems.
For 22 years he was a member of the RIBA council, and vice-president from 1975 to 1977. He was chair of the board of architectural education, and president of the Association of Building Technicians. A member of the faculty of the British School at Rome, he was also consultant to the Coin Street development at Waterloo.
Despite the temporary personal damage to his career, Campbell kept to his political beliefs; he was offered a CBE at the end of his career but was not tempted to accept. Campbell’s lengthy retirement ended finally when he died on July 6th 2002 aged 92.
Source: Guardian 11th July 2002
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