July 9th, 2010
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
- 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”
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.”
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
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.
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.”
Words and phrases list – from which the Wordle was made