Colin Ward (1924-2010) was an architect and one of the leading figures of the UK anarchist movement; he wrote extensively on the welfare system and the social history of Britain, and in particular on issues of housing and planning. From 1947-1960 he was the editor of the anarchist newspaper, Freedom, and from 1961-1970 the editor of the journal Anarchy, gathering round him a group of writers and thinkers who would go on to be influential in their own right. Ward theorised a ‘pragmatist anarchism’ that looked towards removing authoritarian forms of organisation and governance in favour of informal and self-organised mechanisms based on non-hierarchical structures. Unlike other anarchists, Ward recognised that a wholly anarchist society was a theoretical impossibility, as universal consent was unlikely without the use of force or coercion. Ward’s pragmatist anarchism thus strove for a freer society rather than a ‘free society’.
Ward’s writings are characterised by a combination of theoretical discussion on the nature of anarchism with a practical sensibility that looked for empirical results and solutions that could transform real-life situations and everyday living conditions. One of the key themes of his work was the promotion of cooperative self-help strategies, in the form of squatting, tenant cooperatives and self-build projects. Ward was an admirer of Walter Segal whose self-building system he saw as exemplary of such an approach to housing, promoting participation and dweller control. Much of Ward’s later writing was historical in nature, in Cotters and Squatters he wrote a history of informal customs for the appropriation of land in Britain that included the Digger movement, the Plotlanders of southern England and the Welsh tradition of tŷ unnos, where a house is built in one night, which also has its echoes in the geçekondus of Turkey and the amateur building tactics of the global South. Other books uncovered the history of allotments or the creative ways in which children inhabit their environments.
Ward’s writings did much to dispel popular myths and stereotypes associated with anarchism, as well as demonstrating the practical applicability of such an approach to a wide range of issues pertinent to architecture.