I attended a showing of Estate: a Reverie by Andrea Luka Zimmerman on Wednesday evening at the Tate Modern. Following the film an interesting discussion took place among six interested parties and from a poor quality recording I have transcribed some excerpts as shown below.

Simon Elmer


ALZ – Geraldine Dening – Simon Elmer – Kate Macintosh – Shumi Bose

When we first sort of got into what I guess is being called the housing movement a lot of the London groups were working with eviction resistance, people who were being kicked out individually for various reasons but as we got more involved in the movement we realised that this wasn’t happening because people hadn’t paid their rent or their mortgages had fallen through or something like that.  It was being systematically pursued as housing policy and it wasn’t individuals it was the state. Demolitions that were happening as we’ve seen here.

It’s called estate regeneration but in almost all cases it means the demolition, the redevelopment of the land it’s built on.

So we started to, Geraldine did, Geraldine’s the lead architect, with ASH (Architects for Social Housing) came up with this idea that rather than demolishing the estates we can actually solve a lot of the problems, which are used by policy makers, by local authorities, by developers, to justify the demolition of peoples homes.

Things like they’ve been systematically run down and they can’t afford to refurbish them, or that the density of the estate needs to be increased so more people can live on them because London supposedly has an increasing population.

Geraldine came up with this idea that we could build around the existing buildings infill and actually increase the [lost in noise] we could also generate the funds to pay for the refurbishment of existing homes.

So that’s kind of what we do in a very simple sense. We have two principles, don’t demolish peoples homes and we don’t do anything, we do everything we can to keep the community together because what we’ve found with the estates that we’ve worked with is because once people are moved out of the estate, they use this word decanting, the idea that you’re decanted off, demolish the estate, build a nice new one, people come back in – that doesn’t happen.

This isn’t a process of, this isn’t a policy of, estate regeneration, it’s a policy of social cleansing [unclear], and that’s what we try to stop.

Later on in the discussion . . .

A lot of it is political, different reasons, they all boil down to sort of a similar thing. By property developers or councils why this estate has to be knocked down, why everyone has to be kicked off, they can’t afford to upkeep it, where’s the rent gone for the last twenty years “oh well it’s gone somewhere else”.

Or “we need to build more homes” so we go “Ok, we can build you more homes *and* we can refurbish this.  So when we put that as the very first principle at Knights Walk they brought out something that had three different options and they were all full demolition.

We came up with we made a proposal infill [unclear, coughing] they didn’t actually adopt our proposal but it forced them to reconsider other options.

A lot of what we’re doing, it’s a campaign as well, these are genuine, you know that was our first one, Geraldine, and other architects who are members of ASH have redesigned several estates now and these can be built, we’re getting them costed running quantity surveyors, engineers and so on and so forth

The first thing they do as part of the campaign to stop these estates being knocked down is to say “ok we’re going to believe your ideas, your excuses,” and we’re going to say “you don’t need to do this.”

The real excuse is, they’re not interested in that, they want the land.  The UK property market in the last two years has increased by £400bn quid. That’s double the GDP, more than double the GDP of Finland.  It’s the financialisation of homes, of real estate in England. It’s way above any other country in the world, many many times.

You know in the seventies they built “streets in the sky” we’re building deposit boxes in the sky. So we know what they’re after, why they’re after the land but we have to believe their lies and beat them at their own game.

. . . and later, in response to Kate Macintosh.

On the estates we’re working with, Central Hill estate, which is up in Crystal Palace, beautiful estate, right up on the hill, that’s why they want it, it’s got these amazing views of London. It was built in the early 1970s. One of the women who’s lived on the estate for about 30 years, Karen, she wrote this lovely piece about the estate, she had addressed the councillors, she talked how the hopes for these estates when they were first built in the seventies, this hope for this new way of living, the estate really was, not just homes to live in but how people relate to each other and how through the eighties, with the cuts, and the managed decline of these estates, I noticed in the film, that they said in the seventies they identified it as a problem estate, so they withdraw the caretaker they withdraw the funding, it’s a self fulfilling prophecy.

This happens on all these estates, and she talked about how that fractured the community, the opposite of what the architecture was meant to do, to bring people together in the community, it actually fractured them, which of course was what the eighties was all about.

The managed decline of the estate, and then she said, now that they’re being attacked, now they’re under threat,  that sense of community has come back again, and that’s what FocusE15 [unclear] if you attack people they do come together and the excess that you’re talking about in excess of this rigid world of numbers games is community I think community comes back.

One of the things, to put a kind of meaning to it, (laughs) we’ve dedicated our lives to this fight, what is acceptable is what kind of goals are we going for, what will constitute success? Is it building an estate, is it saving a community?

One of the things is, that community coming together, and if we can play any part in that because when we were invited into these estates, in the case of Central Hill, the TRA, the head of the TRA had been put there deliberately by the local authority, to not answer the questions, and the demands and the requests. They’re often very very fractured communities, and part of the fight is binding that community, that community coming together.

This is the second time I’ve seen Andrea’s film I was so struck by how the making of the film itself became the act of community. You didn’t just go into it, record it. David’s [Roberts] wonderful costume dramas and all this thing, how much fun that must have been to do, you can see the … cracking up, with what was going on there.

[unclear interjection by Andrea then Simon continues]

these communities come together that’s one of the things that makes us happier than anything in the world seeing these communities coming together.


Kate Macintosh


Simon Elmer – Kate Macintosh – Shumi Bose

I think I first got worked up about this over 269 Leigham Court Road the sheltered housing scheme which is now thankfully listed because I was approached by a daughter of one of the residents who was starting to try and make a campaign to conserve this building and I hadn’t been back there for over 40 years.

An architect’s always very nervous about going back to a scheme that they did a long long time ago because you never quite know what the reaction is, or how the building has been received, or appreciated or denigrated and it was a huge joy to me that the residents, almost every one of them, there are 44 of these flats, a two storey scheme, were passionately wanting to remain there.

It’s not just the architecture, it’s the fact that it’s enclosed within a garden. I went to great lengths, to, there was a mature garden, to conserve every tree on the site. Lambeth were carrying out what they called a consultation exercise which was an absolute travesty, they just went in there and told them this is what’s going to happen.

They weren’t even told where they’d be moved to. They were assured that they would not be moved en bloc, and they used phrases like “We are one big family, we hardly need any caretaker or any warden because we look after each other” which is just the way I had hoped the complex would work out.

So having got involved with that and now this year they’re going to have part of the Open House for London thing I became more and more passionately involved and in fact Simon and Geraldine live on the scheme which was threatened and is threatened, which was designed by my partner George Finch, so obviously I had more than, I had something of a personal identity with that scheme too. So when they asked me to get involved in the scheme for saving Knights Walk I absolutely just couldn’t resist that invitation and since then it’s just [brought] on.

Danny Dorling in his book The Great Housing Disaster points out that there is not actually a housing shortage. What we are suffering from is  gross mal-distribution. There are enough built dwellings for everybody to have a roof over their head and to have a spare bedroom – and every action which the Government takes which they say is to try to reduce the housing crisis in fact is only causing greater inflation in the housing market.

The economy is so skewed towards dependence on inflation in the housing market that they not only do not deter, but they actively encourage foreign investors to come in so London has become just one big casino for the kleptocracy of the world and this playing field on which the kleptocracy is playing is vastly skewed and tilted towards demoltion and rebuild because of the 20% VAT which is the penalisation of the upgrade and proper renovation of existing properties from which new housing is totally exempt.

Now if you remove that, and you have proper rent control as they have in Germany, so rents are only permitted to increase in line with increasing income you also have security of tenure, so that you have long leases, all the stigma and class undertone that is associated with renting, disappears.

This idea of say that you want to get your foot on the middle class ladder by owning property is unique to Britain and America of course. That is not the case on the continent – we forget about that. So these are the things that need to happen, level the playing field as far as VAT is concerned.

Later on in the discussion . . . Kate Macintosh

I would say that for me the ideal way in which housing is generated which happens a lot on the continent and how they’re taught, particularly it happens in Scandinavia, is housing co-operatives, and there is a demand for this, they have one or two small examples.

The reason it is held back in this country is it comes down to land, and this Government and most local authorities, they don’t want to deal with small pockets of land, they don’t want to deal with small financial institutions they want only to deal with the big boys.

I think there should be a law whereby a proportion of every bit of land that comes on the market is ring fenced for cooperative housing. That’s where you get a healthy balance between the views and needs of the individual or the family group and the cohesive requirements of what makes a community.

There is an absolutely splendid example of this on the outskirts of Freiburg which – they have a law in Germany that if a piece of land in public ownership is going to be marketed it must first of all be offered locally.

This was formerly a barracks site. A large extensive barracks. It so happened that there were three cooperatives, three housing cooperatives looking for land and they bid and they were successful. The consequence, the result of this is they all had green credentials. They all wanted to build as green as they could.

It’s outside Freiburg but they didn’t want it just to be a suburb. They wanted it to be as self sustaining as possible. So you’ve got I think it’s over 2000 dwellings anyway and out of that they’ve got 500 businesses, small businesses going because the ground floor of every block which is along the main arterial route was dedicated for business or office use.

It’s also completely designed around the bicycle for cyclists and walking and it’s got a very good public transport connection with the town. So it’s not that you can’t bring your car to the house obviously for disabled people with walking difficulties, but you cannot leave it there.

The parking is around the perimiter in parking [unclear]. The main mode of transport is the bicycle because it is the quickest and most convenient and the safest and I recommend you all to go and visit. It’s called Vauban.

Kate Macintosh – Rowan Moore

Dawson’s Heights Estate – C20th Society walk

And still later on in the discussion . . . Kate Macintosh

In Southwark, the housing manager I would say was the big cheese among the chief officers, he actually acted as a barrier between architects trying to sort of research or make a connection [unclear]. We did informally, and it’s something you probably couldn’t do today, went out and went into a slab block which was part of the borough just went in knocked on the door interviewed people and so on, and drew our own conclusions but this was probably we would have been reprimanded [unclear] because each chief officer tended to guard his [unclear] it was much better in Lambeth where the housing manager was much more open and engaged individual so that the shop which was on the road frontage at Leigham Court Road I suggested to him that it would be a good idea to have that shop in order to have a focus of interchange between the people in that sheltered housing but also a place and it’s worked out that way.

Reflecting on the film which is absolutely poetic and wonderful balance of humour and tragedy.

Kate Macintosh continued . . .

Historically I was reminded of the highland clearances.

I can’t think of another episode in the history of this country where such an intervention by an elite who have no understanding and no sense of connection with their victims have just imposed this social cleansing and the utter cruelty and ruthlessness and it does come back to land ownership that’s where the power is vested.

You may perhaps be aware [noise on recording] that this excuse, front, figleaf that they use for destroying the planning system, our planning system which we invented and which the rest of the world admired and came here to try and learn about on the excuse that it’s ‘holding up and delaying development’ and inhibiting [coughing] it’s absolute rubbish.

[Unclear] and housebuilders are sitting on enough land to completely satisfy the supposed housing need. The supermarkets are land banking as well. Why should they develop? Why should they sell off? Because as Simon has said, that land completely unused and dormant, useless is increasing in value day by day the average house price in London it was reported recently has gone up £500 a day this year.

[Shumi Bose comment about only 12% of land being built on then KM continues]

. . . and that’s before you get into rough sleepers which has multiplied three times in one year. They simply don’t count in this scenario. If you don’t buy, you don’t shop, you don’t exist.

[Simon Elmer takes up the conversation see above]

Q&A at the end

Audience: “I was just going to ask about the … I live in the East End, where, I’m interested in that historical thing that in the sixties and seventies, in the post war years when people in the slums, the slum clearances, and all the kind of building that went on in Essex, do you see this is a continuation of the same habits or do you think it’s a different thing that’s happening?”


Shumi Bose – David Roberts – Carly-Jayne Hutchinson

David Roberts: I think it’s definitely a continuation in that the worst excesses of all past slum clearances did not care about the people that lived on the land that they were moving. There are a few exceptions where that was done very carefully and well but the majority of them had an excess of people that had to move to make way for the new thing that they weren’t going to live in. So that for certain is exactly the same if not worse.

I think where it’s changed completely is over the course of the twentieth century up until the eighties we were getting more equal social housing was a fundamental component of that, and there are like some amazing statistics to the point where I actually don’t believe it but apparently 42% of the population of Britain lived in social housing in 1979,


. . of which a fifth of the top 10% of earners lived in social housing which meant that the stigma that’s set in now is because it’s residualised and it’s so recent that it’s been stripped down to what is it 8% now, social housing, and the people that live in social housing tend to be far more impoverished and in geographic isolation because of where they’re living in, the right to buy means that the nicer parts of the estate have been sold off [Aragon Tower – Ed.] there’s this real stigmatisation of the people that live there.

So in terms of clearances I think the issue now is that we’re not actually building things that are making potentially us more equal in terms of anyone can live there and the quality is quite high, we’re building in division in terms of what we’re building, poor doors and whatever.

In the new estate that Andrea’s living in now at the moment there aren’t poor doors but there are separate blocks for separate tenures and you can’t go in the courtyard if you’re a member of the public and the people with roof gardens are all owner occupiers.

So there really is, there are worse estates that have gates in between the car parks of the social housing tenants and other people so yeah I think it’s far worse in that to dismantle what we’re doing now is going to be far worse and far harder than what happened in the past. Yeah it’s pretty bleak.

Kate Macintosh responded . . .

I think that even looking at some of the worst examples of the wholesale demolitions and insensitive rehousing that went on in the fifties, sixties and even early seventies such as, I would cite, Glasgow for instance, [Article – Ed.] the intention behind it whatever the result and however insensitively implemented was totally different.

There was a belief – a rooted conviction – not just in this country but across Europe that it was the legitimate responsibility of Goverments to provide a decent shelter, education and healthcare for all citizens. [to applause from the audience].

Now we’ve moved into a situation where we have the commodifisation of everything. Now moving even into schools, childrens academisation of primary education, and increasingly the health service. That is a fundamental difference. [Prolonged applause].

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