Time Out: London’s Best Buildings

ASH nominations for the Time Out guide to the ‘Best Buildings in London’.

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Boundary Estate, Shoreditch, designed by London County Council, 1900.

The first council housing in Britain was built on the demolished ruins of the Old Nichol slum, but the new homes were priced at rents beyond the reach of 95 per cent of the previous tenants, and instead housed a new population of skilled workers. Under the guise of tackling poverty, this set a model of social cleansing that continues to this day, with poor tenants being evicted from demolished homes and their replacements filled with wealthier residents. Now with Grade II listing status.

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Dawson’s Heights, Dulwich, designed by Kate Macintosh, 1964-72.

Speaking of the extraordinary hill-top council estate she began designing at the age of only 26, Kate Macintosh said: ‘Central to all housing design is the balance between the expression of the individual dwelling and the cohesion and integration of the entire group.’ This vision of architecture as social model rather than financial asset is more than ever relevant today, when architects have so readily yielded their agency to property developers, real estate investors and politicians.

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Balfron Tower, Poplar, designed by Ernő Goldfinger, 1967.

The inspiration for J. G. Ballard’s High Rise, and part of the Brownfield Estate. Despite being saved from demolition by Historic England, all the previous residents have been forced out by the increased restoration costs for a listed building, and its original quota of 100 per cent social housing has been reduced to zero. Currently being marketed as retro-style luxury apartments for Canary Wharf bankers.

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Central Hill Estate, Crystal Palace, designed by Rose Stjernstedt, 1966-74.

Ingeniously built into the wooded landscape of Gipsy Hill, the socialist principles of its architecture ensures every home has a view over London and a south-facing balcony. A model of the kind of community living we should be building to address London’s housing shortage, it is instead threatened with demolition by Lambeth Labour Council, who plan to replace it with a private development managed by Savills real estate firm. The design proposals by ASH to increase its current housing capacity by 40 per cent, and generate the funds to refurbish the existing homes, have been rejected by the council as ‘unviable’.

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Cressingham Gardens Estate, Brixton, designed by Ted Hollamby, 1967-79.

This low-rise, high-density estate, influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, was a response to criticisms of council-built tower blocks. Despite 82 per cent of residents voting for refurbishment, this too has been slated for demolition by Lambeth Labour Council, contrary to the manifesto promise by Sadiq Khan that all estate regeneration schemes must have the backing of the community. Its proximity to leafy Brockwell Park makes the planned up-market replacements attractive investments in the new socially cleansed Brixton.

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Cotton Gardens Estate, Kennington, designed by George Finch, 1966-68.

Multiple instances of this model of inner-city social housing can be found around South London, but the dance of these three towers is George Finch’s masterpiece. The accompanying bungalows built for the elderly and disabled were deemed insufficiently dense housing by Lambeth Labour Council, and only alternative proposals by ASH saved half the homes from demolition. Despite this, the Government’s Housing and Planning Act will raise the rents of many of the estate’s council tenants to market levels, freeing up the vacated homes in Elephant and Castle’s coveted Zone 1 to be sold on the private market.

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Robin Hood Gardens, Poplar, designed by Alison and Peter Smithson, 1972.

Innovative social housing in East London’s docklands, the debate over its failed application for listing focused exclusively on its architectural merits, while the rights of the residents who lived there, and who have now been evicted, were ignored. Shortly to be demolished by Tower Hamlets Labour Council, the designs for its replacement by Haworth Tompkins Architects sets a new low for bland, generic, unaffordable housing in a borough with 19,000 families on the housing waiting list. In contrast, the similar Park Hill estate in Sheffield was refurbished to award-winning standards.

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Macintosh Court, Streatham, designed by Kate Macintosh, 1975.

Purpose-built sheltered housing that has served the retirement community for forty years, this too was threatened with demolition and redevelopment as luxury flats by Lambeth Labour Council, but following a campaign by its fifty elderly residents the estate won Grade II listing status. Recently renamed after its much-loved architect, Macintosh Court is a rare victory over the forces of corporate greed being implemented by London’s local authorities.

Architects for Social Housing

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