UPDATE: 4/8/17 This is worth reading.


See Grenfell note at end ***


The publication of a book about floor plans in 2011 gave me cause to study the scissor maisonette.  The combination of a view 180° both ways and the split level nature of the design, provide a living experience that in my opinion is second to none.

This diagram appears in an AJ article dated 28/2/62

This utterly brilliant, innovative, efficient and desirable form of housing has for too long languished in disparate pockets of London, loved only by its architects and residents (sadly not always by them) and barely noticed by developers who don’t appreciate its utility, won’t pay for its construction,  and now prohibited by building regulations (16 10 reasons why not).

Here’s Alex Ely of MAE writing about the book in relation to Corringham, a private scissor block:-

The Corringham scheme, for example, is a model of efficiency through complexity and as much as I would like to emulate the plan, I wouldn’t be able to because of the ever-advancing set of regulations that we face such as the Lifetime Homes Standard, which the scheme doesn’t meet.

Taken from the AJ http://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/8612613.article

L469030

Alex Ely of MAE has written an excellent review of which the above paragraph is a brief quotation. If you want to learn more about the book visit the website http://www.naipublishers.nl/architecture/dash04_e.html 

“In the early 1960s the LCC introduced a new invention: the scissor section This design made it possible to build extremely compact blocks with a minimum of space dedicated to access. But according to the designers the greatest benefit was the fact that the blocks could be built in any possible position because the relatively small, dual-aspect two-bedroom apartments with their interchangeable living room could be positioned in any required orientation.

The LCC adopted this solution, designed by a team led by David Gregory Jones, in a number of projects in the first half of the 1960s, but it was also used in a commercial development: a housing block in Craven Hill Gardens in the heart of London.”

http://www.naipublishers.nl/architecture/dash04_e.html

I’m less keen on the design shown above.  I prefer the LCC galley kitchen with a window at one end (parallel to the living room) which owing to the height of the blocks and the ceiling height of 8ft or 2.4384m allows ample daylight even to the far end of the kitchen. But that’s just a personal opinion.

While the LCC may have designed the scissor maisonette in UK form, the idea of overlapping flats originated in Marseilles with the landmark Modernist Unite_d_Habitation by Le Corbusier.  A sketch of one of the flats is shown below:-

 

 

Le Corbusier in Marseilles,  Erno Goldfinger at Trellick Tower and Balfron Tower, and the LCC made corridor access flats overlap such that a corridor is only required every other or even every third floor with each flat having a view both ways and them interlocking in a manner that can be difficult at first to grasp without drawings.

 

While looking up “TAYLOR, Nicholas. The failure of housing. Architectural Review, London, n. 849, p. 341-359, Nov. 1967″ at the RIBA library I came across an article about the Pepys Estate on page 376 of the same volume which includes this quote about the flats.

The ‘scissors’ maisonette is technically an interesting invention; it was devised for the LCC by David Gregory-Jones and Colin Jones and this is its first large-scale use.  It enables more people to be packed together with less circulation space, and a more flexible layout is possible with all the living-rooms on one side. But against this must be set the repetitiousness of row upon row of identical windows on every floor, enveloped in dark plum-coloured brick, used for all wall surfaces, except for the precast units of the tower blocks. [my emphasis – Ed.]

p.376 Architectural Review 1967.

Yes, they’ve got internal bathrooms and toilets, something I complain bitterly about elsewhere in this blog.  But the kitchen is a separate room, and is well lit.   Light floods into the properties on both sides making lack of daylight in the bathroom and toilet a small price to pay for the benefits.  The flats are properly dual aspect, something entirely missing in too many of today’s pathetic developments; and they are functional.

The bathroom and toilet are separate, and halfway between the living room / kitchen and bedrooms, with dividing doors between on the split level landings.  The use of an access corridor every other level reduces the number of  common areas that have been the cause of so much complaint by Alice Coleman among others, and their compact size means that they are suitable for any plot, even where space is limited.

An example of scissor maisonettes is given here from the excellent British History on line website:-

To the riverside, Kelson House is a 25-storey block of maisonettes, faced in aggregate-concrete panels (Plate 136d). It is of the ‘scissors’ type developed in the early 1960s by a team in the LCC Architect’s Department, headed by David Gregory-Jones, Colin Jones and Ian Hampson.

Such blocks were intended to give greater flexibility and economy (fn. i) than the existing LCC dwelling types – in particular by placing all living-rooms on one side of the building, and by providing a central corridor, which avoided the need for access-balconies.

The somewhat complicated layout, ultimately derived from Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation (1947–52), is best described ‘by comparison with a pair of half-opened scissors, the handles representing the bedroom levels, the blades the living levels and the pivot the bathroom level’ (fig. 203).

The bedrooms are, therefore, a full storeyheight above or below the living-rooms, with the sanitary accommodation in between. Each dwelling is approached either up or down half a flight of stairs from the access corridor. A separate tower contains lifts, escape-stairs and other services, and is linked to the main block by bridges leading to the access-corridors. (ref. 666)

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols43-4/pp539-547#h3-0004

The LCC designed Aragon, Daubeney and Eddystone Towers on the Pepys Estate Deptford, Kelson House on the Samuda Estate Isle of Dogs (Burnet, Tait & Partners), Braithwaite House (more photos here) on Bunhill Row EC1,and Maydew House on Abbeyfield Road SE16, with internal bathrooms and toilets because as scissor flats they more than made up for this by having such excellent daylight in the bedrooms, kitchen and living rooms and dual aspect to boot.

Maydew House links:-

http://cllrpeterjohn.blogspot.com/2010/08/maydew-house.html

http://cllrpeterjohn.blogspot.com/2010/02/80-days-to-save-maydew-house.html

https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/home/home/decent-homes-costs-prompt-tower-block-sale-18653

Residents to move from Southwark block

12 August 2010 | By Carl Brown

Councillors have decided tenants and leaseholders in a Southwark tower block must be moved immediately.

Southwark Council in south London is considering selling Maydew House, home to 144 residents, because of a lack of funds to meet the £12.2 million cost of refurbishing the block to bring it up to the decent homes standard.

. . . . .  follow the link to read the rest of the article

https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/home/home/residents-to-move-from-southwark-block-21745

UPDATE: Thanks to this visitor:-

A visitor from host86-145-222-84.range86-145.btcentralplus.com (86.145.222.84) arrived from www.google.co.uk/url?
[edit] http://www.singleaspect.org.uk
[edit]=westside scissor flats
and visited www.singleaspect.org.uk/?p=15
at 19:36:17 on Sunday, May 22, 2011.

for alerting me to these scissor flats and this website:-

http://www.locallocalhistory.co.uk/mp/p150/page165.htm

http://www.locallocalhistory.co.uk/mp/p150/page166.htm

UPDATE: 7/5/12 I found this today while researching Packington Square.

The Six-storey Packington Blocks are an interesting development of the Scissors flats which were designed by Colin and Jennifer Jones. I have written about them in the Growth of Muswell Hill, p 170-5.

Scissors flats, which were built privately in Fortis Green, Muswell Hill, and later by the L.C.C. all over London, are economical to build. Most flats are built as floors, but in Scissors Flat,s two layers of flats have only one access corridor, which saves a lot of money. Front doors are side by side, but one door leads up a half-floor to one flat and the next leads down a half-floor to the second. The flats are wrapped round each other, rather like the arrangement of a Victorian Bye-law house. There are examples of L.C.C. scissors flats in Malden Road, Camden, Penfold Street, Marylebone, and many other districts.

In a street of three-storey houses, all three floors can be reached from street level by internal staircases.

The six-storey Packington Estate blocks are like two rows of three-storey houses, one on top of the other. There are one bedroom flats, two bedroom flats, and three-bedroom houses, all with front doors side by side at ground level; and at fourth-floor level. Only two access levels are needed for six floors of dwellings, which is an even more economical way of building than scissors flats.

http://www.locallocalhistory.co.uk/islington/packington/index.htm

Here’s Nick Cohen writing in the Observer about the same estate and its “regeneration”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2005/mar/20/communities.architecture

Here’s Patrick Butler writing in the Guardian about the regeneration of Packington.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/dec/04/london-homes-rich-poor-communities

and  writing on the same day about the same estate.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/dec/04/packington-redevelopment-london-social-housing

Yet again this time from the Estates Gazette

http://www.estatesgazette.com/blogs/london-residential-research/2012/12/packington-estate-n1-social-ho.html

Shelter Is Not Enough


A lovely article from the Barbican website describes how the scissor flats there are arranged to benefit from the light on both sides.

P1000366

“Blocks planned on an east/west axis contain through flats so that each of the tenants have a southern outlook for their living rooms while some of the bedrooms face north; where such blocks occur on the southern perimeter of the scheme flats have been planned so that tenants, if they prefer, can have living rooms facing northwards over the gardens.”

Chamberlin, Powell & Bon, Architects “Barbican Redevelopment” April 1959

The link to the page is:-

http://www.barbicanliving.co.uk/Barbican_estate_design/d4d.html and plans of all the flats on the Barbican are to found elsewhere on the same website.


My Flickr set on Scissor Maisonettes

http://www.flickr.com/photos/singleaspect/collections/72157627592908032/


The lessons of Lakanal

24 Housing magazine

https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/home/home/the-lessons-of-lakanal-34269

Old link

http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/the-lessons-of-lakanal/6525303.article

Southwark council fined £570,000

Southwark council fined £570000 over fatal tower block fire


*** Hits to this page have increased in recent days for reasons I can only ascribe to the fire at Grenfell Tower – yet that is not a block of scissor maisonettes it is a point block with six flats per floor and one internal staircase.

It is true that the six (or more?) tall scissor blocks across London have their services (lift, stairs, rubbish chute) to one side of the block and that each flat has one entrance and one fire exit each on different floors but this does not necessarily make them safer than Grenfell Tower was as designed.

The difference is, as Owen Hatherley has pointed out in his excellent article for Jacobin magazine, that had Grenfell Tower been left as it was from its 1970s construction …

“… barring basic maintenance and care, this fire would have been impossible, with all accounts so far agreeing that the main cause was almost certainly botched and cheap recent work on the building.”

the fire would not have spread and everyone would have got out. It was the recent cladding that enabled the conflagration.

3 Responses to “Scissor”

  1. Lee Drawbridge Says:

    Hi, very interesting site – thanks! Do you know approximately how many scissor type blocks were constructed in London?

  2. JPM Says:

    Thanks for a really great article.

    Can I suggest an honourable mention goes to the award-winning Perronet House at the Elephant and Castle (London) which was, I think, the last Scissors Flat block to be built by the GLC (1970)

    Compared to the LCC’s Aragon/Daubney/Maydew/Braithwaite, all built to similar designs from the early 1960s, Perronet House has a much more varied design – with a mix of 1,2 & 3 bed flats and without the uniform frontage that the other blocks have (and is criticised above)

    Scissor flats are found elsewhere in the UK – for example in Southampton (Shirley Towers)

    It’s also worth noting that Lakanal House is NOT a scissors flat design, but is an overlapping flats design (in the same way that the Unite d’Habitation, the Goldfinger towers and Robin Hood Gardens are not scissors flat designs)

    There was a nasty fire at Shirley Towers and the scissors design there did confuse the fire teams – the inquest report and recommendations is an interesting read.

  3. Andy Plant Says:

    It occurred to me that I used to live in a scissor block. The block in question is the 7 storey Longcliffe House that spans the Arndale Shopping Centre in Wandsworth.

Leave a Reply