Category: Open House

Stoneleigh Terrace, London N19

Stoneleigh Terrace, London N19
Modernist housing estate built during golden era of Camden public housing
Architect: Peter Tabori
Year built: 1972-79

Stoneleigh Terrace (also known as the Whittington Estate and Lulot Gardens) is a striking North London seventies housing estate consisting of 240 homes varying from one-bedroom two-person flats to six-bedroom eight-person houses. Bearing a passing resemblance to the Alexandra and Ainsworth estate that I visited last year, it is almost entirely structurally composed of concrete and features a similar stepped, angular design.

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The estate is in a good state of repair and the bright colour palette (the concrete was painted a bright shade of cream in the nineties) means that it doesn’t have that concrete jungle feel, unlike some other estates from the same era.

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8 Stoneleigh Terrace, a two-bedroom split-level maisonette, was open to view as part of the Open House scheme. The flat was accessed from the ground floor, which contained a hall, main living area and kitchen, each divided by sliding partition doors. A fully-glazed wall, with heating concealed beneath a low wooden bench, separated the living area from the terrace and an internal window between the hall and the living area further dissolved the space, as well as providing borrowed light.

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Downstairs were two bedrooms, which both opened onto a small courtyard, the original bathroom and a large box room.

Whilst the estate is primarily populated by local authority tenants, a number of the properties are privately owned, which occasionally come up for sale. I have never seen a flat as big as 8 Stoneleigh Terrace on the market but I have seen a couple of one bedrooms priced at around the £400,000 mark.

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Trellick Tower, London W10

Trellick Tower, London W10
Grade II listed modernist apartment block
Architect: Ernö Goldfinger
Year built: 1968-1975

Bounded by the Grand Union Canal and the Paddington mainline, Trellick Tower is the dominant feature rising out of a housing estate of 317 homes built between 1968 and 1975.

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The tower, which is described as iconic by those who like it and an eyesore by those who don’t, consists of two blocks (one of 31 storeys and one of 7) and is entirely built of bush-hammered in-situ reinforced concrete. Whilst it was originally conceived as social housing, the tower has somehow become one of London’s most fashionable and desirable addresses in recent years with a significant proportion of the flats owned by private individuals.

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Standing at the foot of the 31-storey tower, the building is impressive in an intimidating, monolithic sort of way.

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Once inside, however, it becomes apparent that the building is well kept and the original architecture, exposed concrete walls and colourful tiling have been extremely well preserved or sympathetically updated. The panoramic views from the landings and corridors on the higher floors are pretty spectacular.

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Two types of flat were open to view as part of Open House: a one-bed and an enormous split-level three-bed. The one-bed was bright and reasonably spacious with floor-to-ceiling glazing in the living room opening out onto a balcony with an impressive view of the city below. The three-bed was naturally more impressive with generously proportioned rooms and a long balcony which spanned the length of the living room and the substantial kitchen-diner. The views of the Grand Union Canal snaking through the city from the bedrooms really were something else.

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I haven’t seen a flat come up for sale in the tower recently but I reckon the one-bed is worth around £500,000 and the three-bed close to a £1million.

Priory Green Estate, Kings Cross NW3

Priory Green Estate, Kings Cross NW3
Lubetkin-designed concrete social housing with ‘Conservation Area’ status
Architect: Tecton & Lubetkin
Year built: 1957

At first glance, this centrally located housing estate doesn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary. However, upon closer inspection, the fact it was designed by Lubetkin (the architect responsible for the spectacularly luxurious High Point in Highgate) becomes apparent.

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Small details, such as the putty-coloured square tiling covering sections of the facade, the tapered, almost sculptural stairways, white columns dotted here and there, the elegant grey and dark red colour scheme and even the typeface used for the door numbers all typify Lubetkin’s modernist style. The layout of the blocks make perfect sense: communal walkways on one side of the building, private balconies on the other, meaning that all flats are dual aspect.

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The flats weren’t open to view but I understand that they’re all split level and have reasonable proportions as these photos from Modernist Estates suggest. The estate seems to be well maintained and quiet (it was, apparently, a hotbed of criminal activity for a time) but Lubetkin design features or not, the fact remains that it is a council estate in Kings Cross.

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Dawson’s Heights, East Dulwich SE22

Dawson’s Heights, East Dulwich SE22
Example of 1960s modernist-style social housing with uninterrupted views of the London skyline
Architect: Kate Macintosh for Southwark Council Architects Department
Year Built: 1966-1972

Split between two blocks consisting of nearly 300 flats, Dawson’s Heights was built on an extraordinary 13.8 acre hilltop site in East Dulwich in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Its striking stepped design, which features blocks of varying heights rising to 12 storeys at its central peak, takes advantage of its hilltop location by following the contours of the landscape.

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The architect Kate Macintosh, who was unbelievably only in her mid-twenties at the time, insisted on a number of design features to benefit the council tenants of the day: each flat was to have at least one balcony and views in both directions and to the north, towards central London. Outside walkways were to resemble “streets in the sky”, allowing for efficient circulation and recreating traditional street patterns. The external facade was to have a warm brick texture to reduce the building’s monolithic appearance (you can only imagine what it would look like if it was all made out of sludge-coloured concrete).

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Visiting it today, it is clear that these thoughtful planning and design decisions have paid off in part: the estate, with its chunky bands of balconies and access galleries and multiple layers, is a striking piece of architecture, the external walkways are generously wide and have unexpectedly spectacular panoramic views and there’s also a feeling of brightness and openness, rather than oppressiveness which is unfortunately common for an estate of this scale.

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Unfortunately, the interiors of the development are not quite as striking as the exterior. The communal lobbies are a bit characterless and the flats, although generous in size, aren’t as radical as the exteriors. The most noteworthy feature is the sheer number of mini staircases in each flat leading from one room to the next: whilst the building is twelve storeys high at its peak, there are only four accessible floors from the lift lobby because each flat (including the one-beds) is split over at least three floors.

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The flat that was open to view had a living room on the top level, kitchen, bathroom and a bedroom on the middle level and two further bedrooms on the bottom level. The rooms weren’t massive in size but the flat did feel bright and airy thanks to its placement and multiple balconies.

Although Dawson’s Heights is not grade listed, it is not currently under serious threat of “regeneration” as it is seen as a well-maintained, successful social housing estate thanks in large part to the architecture.

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The Cedars, Teddington TW11

The Cedars (Span House), Teddington TW11
Example of a T2 house by Span Developments famous for forward-looking housing of the ’50s
Architect: Eric Lyons
Year Built: 1958 (Extension 2011)

The Cedars is a small Span estate consisting of around two dozen two-storey houses situated in the leafy Greater London suburb of Teddington. Walking onto the estate, it’s very similar in look and feel to the Parkleys development that I visited in Ham last year, with all of that distinctive tile hanging (grey this time, rather than terracotta) and lushly planted foliage.

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The house open to the public as part of Open House had been recently (and sympathetically) refurbished with a ‘Mondrian’-style primary colour scheme (basically everything – including the furniture – was either red, blue or yellow) together with a number of sustainable features including solar PV cells, solar heating of water and a wood burning stove.

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The owners had extended the house to the rear, which gave the property a more modern look and feel (reminiscent of something out of Grand Designs) than the original floor plan would have allowed. The open plan living room and kitchen, which spanned the whole of the ground floor, opened out onto a small but attractive decked garden.

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The bedrooms upstairs were small but brightly lit thanks to the enormous Span-style windows and the bathroom benefited from what appeared to be a double height ceiling – I couldn’t quite work out how this was possible from an architectural perspective.

Visiting this estate confirmed my love for Span estates.

Isokon Lawn Road Flats, NW3

Isokon Lawn Road Flats
London NW3
Architect: Wells Coates
Grade I listed modernist apartment block designed as a progressive experiment in new ways of urban living
Year Built: 1934

This spectacular pre-war apartment block was originally built in 1934 as “an experiment in minimalism and communal living”. With its curved forms and pale render, Agatha Christie (a former resident) likened its appearance to a giant ocean liner run aground and it was the first ever apartment block to be built chiefly using reinforced concrete.

The block houses 34 apartments, most of which are relatively compact but apparently cleverly designed to make use of the available space. The architect and the couple who commissioned the building envisaged a happy community of ultra-sociable, design-conscious residents who would spend so much of their time with their neighbours in shared spaces (an in-house restaurant, bar, laundry and communal kitchen connected to the residential floors via a dumb waiter) that they would only need the smallest of private quarters to actually live in.

Apparently none of the residents really bought into the idea of communal living (they were reportedly just too British and reserved) so the shared spaces were converted over time into further flats and today, a nice little museum setting out the history of the place. Sadly, the museum does not contain a full reconstruction of a whole flat (as I half-hoped it might) but there is salvaged kitchen and bathroom to see, which are as reported, very small.  Even without the full reconstruction, the museum is well worth a visit, if only to see the building’s spectacular exterior in person.

Flats do very occasionally come up for sale. Here’s one that themodernhouse.net sold recently for about £500,000: http://www.themodernhouse.net/past-sales/isokon-building/

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Cressingham Gardens, London SW2

Cressingham Gardens
Tulse Hill SW2
Low-rise leafy estate located next to beautiful Brockwell Park noted for its innovative design, incorporating pioneering architectural elements and echoing the natural topography.
Architect: Ted Hollamby
Year Built: 1967–78

This South London low-rise estate is a real grower. While the estate had fallen into slight disrepair in parts, there are numerous features which served to make this South London estate stand out.

For starters, the setting next to Brockwell Park and the arrangement of the buildings around a cluster of three green mounds, is quite beautiful. The estate was designed to echo the natural topography (i.e. the tops of the low-rise buildings are the same height or shorter than the trees so from a distance, the estate cannot be seen at all) and the buildings themselves, with their stepped structures and jutting balconies, are not dissimilar to those on the celebrated Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate. The estate is unusually green and there does seem to be a genuine sense of community amongst the residents.

There are a number of different property types on the estate ranging from one bedroom flats to four bedroom maisonettes. Judging from the properties that I visited, room sizes are generous, layouts have been designed to benefit from the views of the park and many of the properties incorporate multiple levels and small gardens. The overall impression is that everything has just been really well designed with the residents of the properties in mind.

It is therefore a great shame that there are very real plans for the whole site to be ‘regenerated’ next year. I cannot imagine that the development replacing Cressingham Gardens will be so well designed.

Golden Lane Estate, London EC1

Golden Lane Estate
Bayer House EC1Y
Part of Golden Lane Estate which was the first public housing to be listed. A maisonette with many of the original detailing and finishes.
Architect: Chamberlin, Powell & Bon
Year Built: 1957

I think my love for the Golden Lane Estate has surpassed my love for the neighbouring Barbican Estate. This may have something to do with the fact that I have come to accept that I will never be able to afford to buy anything on the Barbican Estate (over £500k for the smallest studio nowadays) whereas the dream of living in the Golden Lane Estate seems ever so slightly more within reach (the author of Modernistestates.com has just listed her very nice, well laid out studio for a sensible £380k – see http://www.modernistestates.com/post/97639180610/studio-flat-cullum-welch-house-golden-lane-estate )

It occurred to me on this visit that the buildings comprising the estate are all really quite different looking to one other yet have enough features in common for the estate to tie together as a whole. The injection of colour into the external walkways, window frames and doors also gives the place a slightly less gloomy feel than the wall-to-wall grey concrete of the Barbican Estate. The communal areas are all immaculately kept and there’s a pool in the centre of the estate, housed in a modernist-looking flat-roofed building.

The flat pictured below is part of Bayer House, a series of split-level maisonettes stacked on top of each other in a red, grey and brick coloured building. The ground floor is comprised of the living room and separate kitchen. Stone, wall-mounted steps jut out of the wall into the living room and lead upstairs to two bedrooms and the bathroom. The living room faces out onto a leafy porch and the grounds and the staircase is lit by a double-height window that also opens out onto the porch.

This flat provides the perfect setting for the owners’ mid century furniture (though I got the impression that they had bought it all the first time round and selected so well that their home still looks contemporary today).

Perronet House, London SE1

Princess Street, Elephant and Castle SE1
Purpose-built council block with scissor construction flats with spectacular views of Elephant & Castle roundabout. Commended in 1971 Good Design in Housing Awards
Architect: Sir Roger Walters
Year Built: 1970

Perronet House, the expansive concrete block that looms over Elephant and Castle roundabout, is a familiar sight to anyone who has the pleasure of commuting via SE1. I’ve always suspected that the interiors of the flats might be interesting due to the sheer number of large windows which span across the building almost without interruption.

Having been inside, the flats are even more unusual than I expected. The two flats that I visited were split over three levels (living room/kitchen on one level, bathroom and toilet on a central landing and then two/three bedrooms on the third level) connected by a series of staircases with a main entrance and back door at each ‘end’ of the property. The living rooms have those aforementioned large windows which face out onto a surprisingly impressive view of the roundabout.

A recently sold flat with this sort of configuration went for £350,000, which seems like good value for the size and location. On the downside, there’s always the threat of a big ‘regeneration’ project with a slightly dilapidated block like this…

Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate, London NW8

Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate
Rowley Way NW8
The last large social housing complex in London – a low-rise, high-density enclave. Terraced housing reinterpreted. Listed Grade II* in 1993.
Architect: Neave Brown
Year Built: 1968–79

To use a clichéd expression, this estate really is a concrete jungle. The exposed concrete is looking a little stained these days but the stepped structure and the amount of foliage means that the overall effect is still impressive.

The photos below are of a small split-level two-bed with the bedrooms and bathroom on the lower level and an open plan living area upstairs, almost half of which consists of a very large balcony. A sliding door separates the (original and very brown) kitchen/diner and the living room. The flooring is an interesting mixture of cork, woven mats and wooden slats and there are high quality wooden features (staircase, panelling) throughout.

I’ve heard that it’s difficult to get mortgages on this estate due to the concrete structure of the buildings and local authority status but judging from recent listings, this flat would still probably be valued at about £375,000-400,000.