Urban existence is framed largely by a city’s housing; it provides a private space of dwelling, offers urban form, community identity, and collectively frames the public of the street. Housing expresses the political, economic, and social values of the period in which it is conceived. Personal experi- ences of housing, or ‘home’, can deeply influence one’s world-view: it is both city-building and cultural artefact.
Since the 18th Century, urban housing has been the primary subject for major shifts in architectural theory, technologies, and styles. These shifts are read clearly in cities that have experienced successive waves of urban development over time. Each wave expresses a set of architectural ideals in which economic imperatives and social structures are embedded.
In the 20th Century, post-war London became a testing ground for the Modern Project. Victorian housing and bomb sites were cleared on a mas- sive scale to make way for monumental, collective urban housing estates. Pre-fabricated concrete technology, ‘houses in the sky’, pedestrian pre- cincts, and open green space cleansed the city of the ‘contamination’ of street life, cars, social diversity, manufacturing, and trade. Is it a coinci- dence that the politician in charge of Britain’s post-war housing reconstruc- tion programme was the Minister of Health?
Once shining examples of modernity commissioned by a benevolent State, Britain’s post war ‘Council Housing’ estates and their flawed typologies have become synonymous with its most deprived communities: an archi- tectural and societal monoculture of mainly urban poor. Dilapidated and dangerous, council estates symbolise economic and social segregation, with many now being fully or partially demolished. Estate regeneration now represents the largest scale reconstruction of London since the 1950's.
Alison Brooks Architects consider housing design the most fundamental form of city-building and the social project of architecture. We develop new housing models that integrate urban design with typologies, explore alternative forms, identities, and uses. For six years ABA has been working with Brent Council on one of north London’s largest modernist housing estates; the South Kilburn Estate. Our three projects – one completed, one under construction, and one planned – each offer urban coherence and equitable housing for social tenants and private owners alike.
Brent Council is ‘master developer’ for the Estate’s regeneration, commis- sioning a 15 year masterplan of 2400. The Council stages architectural competitions for each phase and oversees community engagement and construction of each project in partnership with private contractors.
Focusing on our three projects in the Estate, our exhibition reveals its urban origins and architecture as an expression of social, economic, and political ideals at four points in time: 1890’s Victorian suburb, 1960's modernist estate, current regeneration, and speculative future. We hope to show that a strategy of proactive council involvement as commissioners and stewards of urban design and architecture offers an alternative model for urban devel- opment to developer-led housing. Catalysts for social diversity and inclusive- ness: housing architecture is reconceived as civic building of the everyday.