This film made in 2003 is a potted history of the LCC architects’ department at County Hall and their designs and achievements in post-war housing, concentrating on the landmark estates and new towns, in addition to projects by others in Sheffield and Newcastle:-

Click the image for the web page

BBC – Press Office

  • Harlow new town
  • Alton East Roehampton
  • Alton West Roehampton
  • Keeling House Bethnal Green – Denys Lasdun
  • Park Hill Sheffield
  • Tower blocks and system building
  • Alexandra Road Housing – Neve Brown
  • Byker Estate Newcastle – Ralph Erskine
  • Trellick and Balfron Towers – Erno Goldfinger

Harlow New Town

Anne Power of the LSE is one of the people interviewed for the film and she had this to say about council housing:-

“Overwhelmingly the majority of council housing was built as houses with gardens because we thought that everybody should have this kind of idyll of a little house and a little garden.

But in the cities where you were trying to put back very large numbers of people from slums that were very densely occupied there was a realisation that you couldn’t simply build houses with gardens there and that’s where the modernist ideas came into play”

[Alice Coleman please note – Ed.] See also Design Disadvantagement

Title shot – click above for larger image

Narrator – “The LCC was one of the biggest providers of post war social housing and became a magnet for idealistic architects who wanted to introduce modernist solutions”

Oliver Cox – “There was a very heady feeling at the time, that we were building a new Britain, there was no question about that”.

Alton East – click photo for larger image

Oliver Cox speaking about Alton East

“A number of us as young students had visited Scandinavia, and were very impressed by the work that had been done, by the Swedes during the war, in introducing modern ideas of design, using traditional materials and techniques, as well as new materials and techniques, in a way which was very much related to making people feel at home and comfortable in their housing.”

Alton East low rise blocks – click photo for larger image

Oliver Cox speaking about Alton West

“It was an open decked access at the back, we call balcony access, as opposed to the Scandinavian point block approach on Alton East which was staircase access and so there was some opposition between those of us who worked on the East who said that we were looking rather more carefully at what it felt like to live in these blocks, and were of course rather attacking the architects on the other part who were exposing in the Corbusier type blocks the people who lived there, to the open elements.”


Alton West – click photo for larger image

Oliver Cox speaking about Alton East and West

“Roehampton was the showcase for a new layout new approach to a social mix and at the same time new techniques of construction of high rise buildings and new services, new components, everything was designed from scratch.”

The programme moves on to talk about Denys Lasdun’s cluster blocks at Bethnal Green one of which is called Keeling House, pictured below:-

Keeling House Bethnal Green – click photo for larger image

Park Hill in Sheffield is the next project to be discussed and how the “streets in the sky” concept became discredited as these areas not overlooked by tenants became the scenes of muggings and graffiti.

Hyde Park Sheffield – click photo for larger image

Alexandra Road by Neve Brown comes under the spotlight and the architect is filmed at home discussing his projects at Fleet and Alexandra Roads.  Nearest tube stations are South Hampstead, Swiss Cottage and Kilburn High Road.

Alexandra Road Camden – click photo for larger image

The programme moves on to discuss other large housing projects in the UK this time in Newcastle upon Tyne where the Byker Estate by Ralph Erskine is examined:-

Byker Estate from Google Earth – click for larger image

Read more about the Byker estate here

Byker Wall section – click for larger image

Watch a film about the Byker Estate here -> Building Sights – Byker

Lastly the programme looks at a building described by Kirsty Wark in From Here to Modernity as “the headstone on the grave of the Modern Movement”, Trellick Tower by Erno Goldfinger.

Trellick Tower montage – click for larger image

Trellick Tower was unmanageable until a concierge was introduced.  Like so many tower block failures the designers and council realised only very late in the day that these blocks need a constant pair of eyes to keep them and the tenants free from trouble.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/1999/mar/11/features11.g28

Trellick Tower under construction – click for larger image

Please note this still is from a different film – I Hate the Sixties – BBC4

Towards the end of the documentary Anne Power sums up the feeling as follows:-

“People were living in miserable housing conditions and we did have a huge housing shortage and people did end up living on the whole in better conditions and we did end up without an acute housing shortage.

So I don’t think we should underestimate both the concrete achievements and also what was being attempted.”


You can watch the film on Youtube at this link High Rise Dreams


Words and phrases list – from which the Wordle was made

Social-housing
Tenements
Streets-in-the-sky
Urban-jungle
Modernist-architects
Home-front
War-heroes
Victorian-slums
Better-world
Homes-fit-for-heroes
Homes-for-the-people
Council-housing
Anne-Power
New-towns
Garden-cities
Green-belt
Aneurin-Bevan
Harlow-New-Town
LCC
Oliver-Cox
New-Britain
Alton-East
Roehampton
Scandinavia
Swedish-style
Nicholas-Taylor
Alton-West
Le-Corbusier
Urban-parks
Working-class
Unite-d’habitation
Point-block
Cluster-blocks
Denys-Lasdun
Harold-MacMillan
Park-Hill
Access-decks
Glasgow
Birmingham
Hulme
Manchester
Sectra
Tower-block
Prefabrication
Ronan-Point
Golden-age
Modern-slums
Poor-maintenance
Vandalism
Hunslett
Alexandra-Road
Neave-Brown
Tabula-rasa
Winscombe-Street
Byker-Estate
Newcastle
Ralph-Erskine
Andrew-Saint
Margaret-Thatcher
Right-to-buy
Trellick-Tower
Concierge
Post-war


2 Responses to “High Rise Dreams 2003 – documentary review”

  1. Jim Bone Says:

    great! thanks a lot

  2. Festivals and fetishes | known pleasures Says:

    […] In some respects the lives of those less advantaged in the cities and towns of late ’70s/early ’80s Britain had come to resemble Western perceptions of life in the Eastern Bloc; features common to both dystopias included social division and unrest borne out of political austerity and a visual, post-conflict legacy of urban centres filled with tower blocks filled with low-income occupants.  However, ongoing critiques of modernist housing usually lose sight of the reason the building boom happened in the first place, as LSE’s Anne Power explained in the documentary High Rise Dreams: […]

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