Page 1

James Lander and Tamara Stoll

Walking Between Streets in the Sky


○ Boundary Estate ↘ Ashington House ↙ Ocean Estate ✕ ↑ ↘ ↑ Balfron Tower ↑ ↙ Robin Hood Gardens

James Lander and Tamara Stoll

Walking Between Streets in the Sky

with Ken Worpole Lisa Mckenzie Nayia Yiakoumaki Geraldine Dening, Simon Elmer and Catherine Croft

1 Itinerary 3 Invitation to the reader 5 Walk 1 with Ken Worpole, writer and social historian  Boundary Estate → Ashington House 29 Walk 2 with Lisa Mckenzie, academic and political activist Ashington House → Ocean Estate 51 Walk 3 with Nayia Yiakoumaki, Curator of the Archive Gallery at the Whitechapel Gallery Ocean Estate → Balfron Tower  71 Walk 4 with Geraldine Dening and Simon Elmer, Co-Founders Architects For Social Housing Balfron Tower → Robin Hood Gardens 93 Walk 5 with Catherine Croft, Director of The Twentieth Century Society Robin Hood Gardens → Ocean Estate   116 Letter to our collaborators 118 Footnote sources 120 Leads to follow 122 Walkers and recipients


3 Invitation to the reader

Dear Reader

These five housing estates in Tower Hamlets, East London have in the past or currently do share the threat of redevelopment. At the beginning of 2017, we invited collaborators for five conversation-led walks between two estates at a time. Ken Worpole, Lisa Mckenzie, Nayia Yiakoumaki, Geraldine Dening, Simon Elmer and Catherine Croft. We looked for input from architecture to activism, from anthropology to art. Our aim, through taking these walks, was to make connections between different experiences, perspectives and areas of expertise on social housing in London today. In this visual essay we mapped each estate through selections from conversation transcripts accompanied by footnotes. We hope it will prompt you to walk between these estates while they still stand.

Yours sincerely James and Tamara

4 Perspectives As well as being beautiful, it was designed so that every flat would receive sunlight at fortyfive degrees to its windows, and the spaces between blocks are generous and the rooms are light. This contrasts with much of today’s highdensity housing with its dark, single aspect apartments and poor standard of outside space. —TH–Federation, 2015 The potential physical restoration of the gardens is a welcome opportunity for positive change, but conversely it also carries the risk that a sudden overhaul could further distance Arnold Circus from its former role at the centre of community life. Many local residents already feel marginalised by the rapid transformation of the surrounding area. It will be important that changes at Arnold Circus are made with, and by, the local community, so that the benefits are valued and maintained over the long-term, and to prevent the gardens from falling back into a state of disrepair. —Friends of Arnold Circus, 2008

Key Dates 1890—1900 The first council housing estate in England, designed by Owen Fleming and built by the London County Council (LCC) 1912 Bandstand erected as the centre-point of the estate 1994 Grade II listed 2004 Friends of Arnold Circus established dedicated to its regeneration and upkeep 2006 87% of residents voted against transfer to a housing association

Boundary Estate File Notes

2017 Currently occupied

About our collaborator Ken Worpole is a writer and social historian, whose work includes many books on architecture, landscape and public policy. He is married to photographer Lorraine Worpole with whom he has collaborated on book projects internationally, as well as in Hackney, London, where they have lived and worked since 1969.

5 Walk 1 with Ken Worpole

Boundary Estate ↘ Ashington House

6 1


We are here at the Boundary Estate, it is the oldest housing estate in London. The public spaces around and within the Boundary Estate are fascinating. A lot of thought went into the design of these spaces. We’re taking this as a starting point to talk to you about how public space has changed within the history of social housing in Britain since the Boundary Estate was built at the beginning of the 20th century. Looking around, from the bandstand at Arnold Circus, we can get a sense of what planners had in mind for residents here.1



As you know this was built on one of the most notorious slums of the East End, the Old Nichol.2 Originally, my background is as an English teacher, so I came to urban policy through literature and in fact, my first book was called Dockers and Detectives 3 and it was about working class life in East London. So, Arthur Morrison’s Child of the Jago 4 was one of the first ones I discussed and that was set in the tenement estates, actually, terraced houses, slum narrow streets, that existed here before it was cleared.5 So I guess, the first thing you notice are the avenues in between, so the light can come into the blocks of housing. Another thing, there would have been dozens of pubs that existed here before. So this is part of the end of 19th/20th century movement not only to get rid of the slums, but to change people’s ways of life, away from drink, away from bad health, towards this new model living. I’m not sure why they were called new model estates, but that was the phrase used at the time.




Boundary Estate → Ashington Estate


8 t

Yes, we read about this idea of not only changing people’s living conditions but also their lifestyles. Which, in a way begs the question whether people actually had a say about what happened with the spaces in their area?


No, they didn’t have a say, and in fact most of the developments of this type were done by large religious, philanthropic societies. They all earned money – they were quasi commercial organisations. They were involved in moral change as well as in housing change. j

Would the members have been part of the congregation already or were they seen as potential members? k

Yes, local vicars would have been very involved in this and would have tried to recruit people into the church.

Boundary Estate → Ashington Estate


(.) This was at a period when social housing is being developed still within the city. But then, after the 1st World War the pressure is to get everyone, as many as possible, housed in outer London. t

Yes, you can see that with housing we’ll be walking past later where all buildings are lined up, where it is not as spacious as here at Boundary Estate, where not as much attention was given as it is given to the area here. 6


There would have been quite disciplined regulations and rules with your tenancy here at the Boundary. You would get evicted if you were behind with your rent or were admonished when you didn’t clean the corridors. There was a degree of moral control over the tenancy.


Only 11 of 5,719 residents were actually housed at the Boundary Estate from the original slum. (.) Actually, the central mound was built with the rubble of the old slum.6 What I like about it is, that it has had a lot of different uses. In its history, it had a brass band play twice a week in summer, waltz and polka dances, and people playing chess. I think, the way it is built, it gives people the space to do these quite specific activities.


Yes, but in a way it is not very English in the design, it’s much more European. The 5 storeys, the Dutch influence, the arts and crafts aesthetic. And when you talk about playing chess, I imagine, that would have been imported from Europe as well.

10 t

I read it was played a lot by the Jewish community here. Yes, you see people, groups of men, families playing on the street, outside much more in France or Portugal. k

The fact there were no pubs, there was an emphasis to get people off the streets. The houses that existed here before the estate were so narrow, so unhygienic, people would spend most of their time if they could on the street. Men would be in the pub, and the women on their chairs on the pavements, on the streets. t

Which would have produced such a tight community. What I find interesting is that this community grows probably quite organically. There might have been also a lot of D.I.Y, and informal architecture, in how people created their public spaces. With the Boundary estate in contrast, there was a very clear idea of what the estate and outside spaces would look like. And you also mentioned, that there would have been strict rules within the estate. k

Yes, and as I said, these were financial investments.


What does the architecture and design of social housing estates reveal about social and political ideals? k

Well, the problem is, it has too uncanny a resemblance to barracks, which is a military thing. There was resistance by people who lived in slums but nevertheless on street level to be put into 5 storey housing. There was an element of the prison or the workhouse. There is an architectural style shared with severe institutions. These are institutional buildings. j

With that initial resistance from the residents to being institutionalised, how do you think they countered it, interpreted it? k It would have been less of a problem for Jewish residents, they would have felt secure and also have a degree of strength, but I suspect that non-Jewish people might have felt they were to a degree institutionalised. j

Do you think the power of the architecture lies within the institution? Is it a top-down process or more organic? k

I don’t think it is organic, it is very much shaping human behaviour through a degree of architectural determinism.

Boundary Estate → Ashington Estate




We have talked about this a lot, especially regarding Balfron Tower and Robin Hood Gardens. The idea of living together is very conceptual with these two buildings. Perhaps too detached from traditional ideas of home and community? k

And also, there are other anchors of place. The pub, the street market, religion. This was never a religious area but a lot of the social reformers were from the Church of England or from Jewish religious groups. (.) I mean, this school over here, it’s a classic board school, the playground is on the roof! You can see another one of these barracks type buildings. It’s surrounded by a high wall and it’s not really connected to the street.

Boundary Estate → Ashington Estate



Especially if you imagine that this area would have all been one floor housing with only the school and the Boundary Estate to be these tall buildings. j

What about the idea of space that allows for play? It seems there has been a shift away from areas of play. k

Before the advent of the car, most children would have played on the street. (.) 7

There would have been various religious processions, the Irish community was catholic, and other street processions. The other thing – funerals were big public occasions, the street would stop. Funeral processions were big public occasions. Something like a quarter of a million people came out when the musical star Marie Lloyd had died.7 (.) And then, there were so many small trades, a lot of which could be done at home – craftwork, jewellery-making, sewing.


It sounds like work and life merged, many different things happened within the home and on street level, close to street, and then, of course, on the street as well. Now, we’re going into Weaver’s Fields, a public park. How, would you say, has the use of public space changed?

14 k

Certainly parks, which are in many ways a Victorian invention. The notion of the municipal park emerges in the 1870s in all the towns and cities in Britain and it is part of what’s called the civic gospel. There is this idea that this new municipal authority, democratically elected – although not yet extended to women – was beginning to be seen as an organisation that looked after people, as they used to say, from birth to death. The park was a kind of substitute garden for people who didn’t have gardens. j

But they weren’t gardens in the sense that you could garden there.

Boundary Estate → Ashington Estate


16 k

No, that’s right. In fact, quite the opposite, often the trees and shrubs would be labelled in English and Latin. There were also elements of education, including a degree of imperial display. Exotic trees brought from the Empire planted for the delight of the English people. And again, they were much more strictly regulated for behaviour. (.) There were lots of forms of behaviour that would have been considered inappropriate including walking on grass, no ball games. These were places for weekend recreation. You go out on Sunday, put on your best clothes. It was to get people off the street into a much more respectable space. t

This sounds like it came with expectations of how to behave and how to show yourself in public. Whereas before, people’s lives would have taken place on the street as homes were crowded, then people lived more privately. k

There would have been a programme of activities, like band concerts, brass bands. From time to time, there would have been fairs, circuses travelling around. And then during the 1st and 2nd World War parks were used for growing food. t

It is interesting to think that their use can be changed in special, unusual times.

Boundary Estate → Ashington Estate



There was a proposal for a 12 storey tower block to be built here ten years ago. Residents objected to it and it was not built. So, I am thinking of how sites for recreation such as this one have shifted in their use to a place where people can display their feelings and thoughts more vocally. It’s not Speakers’ Corner, but interesting how the park can become a stage. k

Yes, that’s true, there would have been demonstrations and occasional religious meetings, I assume. t

I spent some time in Chinese parks a couple of years ago and found it really fascinating how people very actively used parks. There were exercise groups, communal dancing, Karaoke and a lot of other things happening. Parks have so much potential, they are flexible in use. There are certain restrictions but also freedom. k 8


And, I should imagine, there would have been an open-air outdoor school in this park. This was a new idea coming from Europe, coming over before the 1st World War that children with a delicate disposition because of TB, would get fresh air. So a lot of parks had these, a bit like the bandstand, a sheltered kind of canopied classroom where the children would sleep in the afternoon in beds. The open air school, there’s one in Mile End, Phoenix School 8, it’s post 2nd World War. The design is modern, two sides of the building are open, so air comes in from both sides – it’s a pavilion style building. I’m very interested in this notion of pavilion architecture, it comes out of the Crimean War from Florence Nightingale.9 It’s about air-circulated buildings from which you can walk beds out onto a patio. That influenced a lot of school design.


How do you think it’s possible to accommodate conflicting interests of public and private ownership in public space? k

Historically parks were bounded, green oases, spaces that a community looked into and used. In the last 20 years and it is growing stronger, is the notion of the green network. It allows these green spaces being connected to each other, which allows walking, cycling and also ecological connectivity. You create passages where flora and fauna can travel through the city. That’s a source of conflict because a lot of people have a sense that their park is theirs, it belongs to their community and anybody passing through it that doesn’t belong is regarded as an intruder.

18 This is going to be an issue about the degree green space in the city is to become a connective tissue of the urban world and not simply a series of discreet bounded spaces. There is less and less funding for parks. So another issue right now is Historic Parks being given priority by heritage lobby and conservation lobby whereas a younger generation of environmentalists are wanting to prioritise the network, to make cycle paths and canal paths. t

We were walking on the Jubilee Greenway 10 last summer which connects green spaces all over London. Similar to the bandstand, you’re in a heightened position and you are able to get a real sense of the city you’re part of. Seeing your city from above can help you to understand it, I would say.



One thing that came up for me recently is the contradiction that architects draw their designs from this lofty position and the way in which we actually experience architecture as we are now, is on the street amongst it. k

Yes, the problem is that I would say now the form of urbanisation is wholly determined by land prices. You can’t build a new library or a health centre unless you have ten flats on top or by the side of it. The flats have got to pay for the public amenity. So, we’re ever determined to go higher and to lose the connection to the street. Living away from the street, as the Danish urbanist Jan Gehl 11 said, ‘the tower block is a gated community in the sky’. It has no connection and is deliberately sealed off from the public domain. So, that is a real problem. 11


When we look at Balfron Tower and Robin Hood Gardens, we see these strong ideas of creating streets in the sky, areas around the buildings, to create centres where people meet and come together. I imagine that’s a real challenge to design. k

I think also of the progenitor of this idea Le Corbusier. The tower block in the parkland looks wonderful on paper but that parkland in this context is essentially decoration. If you go to Stockholm, it kind of works there, because Stockholm is built on granite, it’s got big undulations. The landscape itself is full of interest, full of incident, outcrops of rock, dales. But on a completely flat plain, just grass, has no dynamic or invitation to play except to kick a ball.

Boundary Estate → Ashington Estate


20 j

It makes me think of Park Hill estate.12 You almost fall out of the train and you’re in amongst it.



We are now on the Collingwood Estate with Collingwood Community Hall. There are plans, the Ashington House East redevelopment, to demolish the Community Hall and to replace it with a multi storey building. The Community Centre will be re-housed in the building. Also, some of the existing buildings will have extra storeys built on top, roof-extensions, and some of the open spaces will be built on, ����������������������� in-fills. No existing housing will be taken away though, it seems. So residents will be able to stay here.



You must mention Family and Kinship in East London 13 in your study. It’s the classic study of this area post war. It’s very rich in sociological detail. The slums were demolished, some people were moved out to the suburbs and some people were re-housed here.

(.) And then, to me, the tenancy arrangement is more important than the architecture. In that period, you could nominate your children, they would get priority to be re-housed. So when they grew up and got married, they would go on the waiting list and because of where their parents lived, they would get priority. Well, over time, this was regarded as discriminatory, because it meant that no other people could come into the system. But once that was demolished, it caused a lot of resentment. Then older working class families said ‘well I have lived here all my life and now my children can’t get a flat here’.

Boundary Estate → Ashington Estate j


They’re both valid arguments. k

They are. It’s another classic if you have scarce resources, how do you allocate or prioritise scarce resources? It’s always full of social problems. But then, a second thing that happened was that people realised that you get more points on the waiting list if you were a single mother. So some women kicked their husbands out, the man would agree to live with his parents. Another thing people told me in interviews is that people were living in terrible conditions. When someone came around to inspect it, they would throw water all over the walls. They would actually partly exacerbate the bad conditions they lived in. Or if you have more children. I can understand, but you get these perverse responses to a crisis of waiting list and how a waiting list is weighted based on social criteria. j

There are parallels with the questionnaires that artist Stephen Willats asked residents of the Ocean Estate to fill out. He asked them to comment on their lives as they were and to suggest how they could be improved. We talk about how they responded to each others answers with Nayia.

↱ See page 55


There is this common notion of the architecture as a resource and that there is a too high demand for this resource. How do you begin to allocate access to that resource? Whatever series of priorities or weightings you give, people will find this very contentious for cultural, racist, sexual reasons. j

What do you think the future provision for public space in social housing could be? k

The question to ask is not what space will look like but what experiences it will support. Which is why a park is so flexible, you can have a concert one night and you go there the next morning and it’s all clear again. You’re not building these structures, instead there is one space that can be adaptable for different uses. Like the pub-theatre that happened in the 1970s. It gets the people who are really passionate about it and you’re not investing in large infrastructure that doesn’t get used. t

If you start on a small scale you can change and adapt things as well. It can grow organically.

22 k

If you’re designing a new public space you don’t ask the landscape architect about the cost to design it but how much it costs to maintain for the next twenty years. And how much it costs to programme it. So at least there is a budget for community festivals, fire works night, something, something. You do need an animateur to bring people together. j

Could that be the resident? What’s the resident’s role? k

It could be. The best model is the Bankside Open Spaces Trust 14 which came out about twenty years ago. It was in Southwark, when a group of very active residents went to the council and said ‘we like how you maintain the parks but you’re absolutely useless when it comes to maintaining these bits of green spaces’. So they set up the Bankside Open Spaces Trust and negotiated with the council to be paid to maintain all the little niche spaces. It’s worked fantastically. So there’s a municipal level of maintenance of park space, probably anything over an acre. But below that, the small church yards, allotments, and these little bits of public space here and there, this micro level, you have a small local trust, being paid, taking care of public spaces. 14


Boundary Estate → Ashington Estate



Boundary Estate → Ashington Estate



Boundary Estate → Ashington Estate


28 Perspectives 1. There is not enough open space. 2. More housing means more CARS, more ANTI-social behaviour. 3. The Collingwood Hall was built by local residents including Sophie and Harry Skeats, Ron Benstead, and Charlie and George Goodman. Any new hall should have a plaque to remember these local residents who gave up their time. —J. Griffin, resident (Camp, 2014, P.17) Whitechapel Masterplan was pushed through by the Council in 2013 with little public knowledge. Whitechapel Crossrail is central to the suburbanisation of the area. As part of the plans, Sainsbury’s wants to double the size of the store and build 600 new homes on its roof with a 33 storey tower. While the area desperately needs more truly affordable housing, Sainsbury’s is offering a pathetic 10% despite the council’s target of 35%. No doubt it will say that’s all it can afford, but this simply doesn’t wash, as it owns the land. If the company wants to be a part of the community, it can start by not treating us with contempt. —TH-Federation, 2015

Key Dates 1922 The first post-war LCC housing began. Most blocks named after captains and ships deployed during the battle of Trafalgar in 1805 1971 Ashington House designed by Noel Moffett Associates and built by the Greater London Council (GLC) 2013 Whitechapel Masterplan published in connection with Crossrail. Ashington House East development

Ashington House File Notes

2017 Currently occupied

About our collaborator Lisa Mckenzie — Red Lisa now Pink. Rebel ethnographer. Working class academic. Author of Getting By.

29 Walk 2 with Lisa Mckenzie

Ashington House ↙ Ocean Estate



We’re meeting here in Bethnal Green, at the Collingwood Estate near a future Crossrail station and a Sainsbury’s development,15 walking to the Ocean Estate, once described as a ‘sink estate’ by the BBC and now redeveloped. We’re trying to make connections between housing and social class, in London today. l


I’ve always lived on a council estate, and I do here in Bethnal Green in an ex-council flat. This is a strange area though. It’s turned. It’s turning now. Half of my block is private rented, the other half is council. You can see people being moved out. I suppose, in London, council estates are quite different. I’m writing a book now which is called Grieving for London. It’s about London and about Bethnal Green and it is really going to be about the gentrification process, the removal of working class people out of London. It’s not the same sort of council estate as St. Ann’s or Sutton-in-Ashfield,

Ashington Estate → Ocean Estate



where I was brought up on. I suppose what I’m writing about is that spaces and buildings can change occupation but actually people – there is a commonality between the people in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottingham or people here in Bethnal Green. The commonality is that we’re working class. That’s the real grief for London, that’s why we should be grieving, because working class people are now being moved out. It’s a whole culture, it’s families, it’s communities. It’s actually the essence of British identity. For most of us, British culture is about everyday life, who your neighbours are. You know, we talked a lot about the way the British are tolerant. You had immigration in this area here for more than 600 years from all over the world and people are mixed here. And the people that mix, and people who are mixed are actually working class people. I’m gutted at what’s happening here. That’s why we should be grieving for London.


Saskia Sassen talks about how people in London are actually competing with international investors in paying for housing.16 l 17

You’re not in the game now, and it shouldn’t even be a game. I do agree with her to a certain point, whereas for me, I really talk about value. And who is valued and why they are valued. And about the capitalist system and the way we set the rule. The reason I came to Bethnal Green, I’ll be honest, it was the only place I knew in London. I had lived in Nottingham all my life. And I moved to Bethnal Green because of – do you know the book Kinship and Family in East London by Willmott and Young? 17 That’s a really important sociological book. I knew that Bethnal Green was once a working class neighbourhood.


That’s interesting that you came to the neighbourhood because of this book. Part of why we’re doing these walks here and why we generally walk in the neighbourhoods we live, is because we think it’s a good way to know your area and your neighbours. l

I do ethnographic walks. My research, the centre pin for my Grieving for London book are the ethnographic walks I’ve done for the last four years. I actually did three walks. One starts here [in Bethnal Green], because I live here.

32 t

Do you repeat the same route? l

↱ See page 60

Yes, and I have taken photographs and written research diaries for the last four years. I walk from here down to Cable Street.18 That is interesting, in the last three years, the area around Aldgate East looks now like Manhattan. I also got arrested outside number one Commercial Street. The development on the corner, it’s called 1 Commercial Street.19 About three years ago we found out it had a poor door. You’ve got two doors, a front door, where the private residents go in, it’s all nice, carpet, chandelier, concierge, and then, round the back, there is a door where social tenants go in. 18


We talk about this with Nayia as well, that there is still social housing in new developments, but it is not on the top floors, or the apartment with a nice view. l

It’s floor 7! You have floor 1–6, which is commercial, then you have floor 7 which is social housing, which is the bit they had to put in, and then above, you have private renters. But actually since 2010, any new development don’t have to put them in if they give the council some money. Anything that was agreed before 2010 had to put, I think, 10% of social housing in. So floor seven has always been social housing. j

The reason why you got arrested? l

I used to do a weekly protest there. We used to protest on rich door. I put a sticker on the window. Actually someone else put a sticker on but the Police wanted to arrest me, so I got arrested because someone else put a sticker on a window. 19 That’s true. t

How did it turn out? l

I went to court, but I got found not guilty. But the Police tried to keep me out of action for a year. I got bail conditions, I couldn’t walk down there. 20


And something we talked about with other collaborators and walkers was that now public space is changing and very often it is actually private space where people can arrest you. l

Part of the walk I do, the one from here to Cable Street, I’ve been walking past the Goodman’s Fields development,20

Ashington Estate → Ocean Estate


34 which is on Leman Street. I have watched that go up. Last year, they put these bronze horses up. I’ve written about those horses, and written about the gentrification of working class stories. So, the way our history gets wiped out, yes, hijacked. So, Goodman’s Field, which is now this horrendous glass, chrome, concrete dystopia – they’ve got this bronze horse feature. And they have the story of the horses, because Goodman Fields was the area where the Eastenders used to keep their horses. All the work horses from the area, at night, they would go into stables in Goodman’s Fields. So basically they’ve done a homage to the working horses of the East End. But do you think these working horses looked like that? They look like Arabic stallions. t

It’s this pretension of connecting with history but actually using it for marketing… l

But actually wipe out that history. Wipe out that class history. So it’s cleansing in another sense. In summer, there was a local guy with his three kids, and they were playing in the water, there was a security guy come over saying ‘you’ve got to go’. And he said ‘my kids are just playing, what’s wrong with this?’. And he said ‘no you’re not allowed here, this is private property’. And the security phoned the Police. And the Police came. With these private developments, Police come like that. The Metropolitan Police’s priority is always to protect private property.

Ashington Estate → Ocean Estate



And this happened on your walk. So once you get walking in your area, you encounter all those things… l

And you engage with them, and you care about them, and you understand them. I took my students on that walk last week. We were taking photographs of the boards [at Goodman’s Fields] and the security came up to us ‘what are you doing here?’. I said ‘this is none of your business – this is public space, we can walk around here, piss off!’ This is public space, we can walk here, we can take pictures here! t

This is great! Your students must have loved it. But people do get intimidated. How can we resist this? l

It’s difficult, because I don’t want to encourage people to get arrested. Because the Police will arrest you if you’re threatening in any way or if you threaten private property. The Metropolitan Police are not sympathetic to people’s hurt or anger. And you will be arrested! I know so many people that have been arrested on protests. t

You’ve written about how this idea of ‘Broken Britain’ led by the Conservatives has affected people. 21


Broken Britain… The politicians broke us. Britain is not broken. There has been an intense class war, really, in Britain. Unless you have a particular background, you’ve got a particular education, you’ve got particular cultural ways, you are really messed about. Does it shock you how classified it is as someone who’s not from Britain?


Yes, definitely. But then, in Germany you have had a division between people in the East and West. l

It’s the wall in the head. It’s a German saying and I wrote about this in my book about council estates. t

Yes, I remember in your book Getting By 21 it becomes really clear. On the one hand, social exclusion leads to the wall. On the other, it offers belonging and safety from class prejudice and stigma. I found it interesting how you explain emotional boundaries as defensive means. Then there is a physical wall as well. Ken Worpole compares the architecture of social housing with institutions like prison or military barracks, what is your perspective on this?

↰ See page 12


Ashington Estate → Ocean Estate 22



I have changed a lot since I wrote my book Getting By. St. Ann’s is like Thamesmead, 22 it was built in the late 60s/ early 70s, so it is very concrete and Brutalist. It was based, I wrote about it, it’s called the Radburn Plan.23 There is actually an estate like this, exactly the same, in Wales. (.)


It was very good intentioned, so in the 60s/70s there was this idea that we should be a built community. So they built all these houses which faced each other with a concrete square. So the front door was actually the back door, and it housed a lot of people in small spaces, and you have a lot of alleys. So the architecture, although it was really well intentioned, actually didn’t really work. (.) It could have worked with a bit more thought and more money. The architect probably had a better idea and the council decided … well with St. Ann’s there was a controversy at the time because the contracts were awarded to Wimpey who were friends of the councillors. So the architects have these ideas of communities without traffic, and you can walk everywhere, but they were done on the cheap. I know in France there were much better examples of these places, whereas in Britain we did them on the cheap. (.) So what happened over the years is that the architecture started to disintegrate. These back alleys weren’t really safe places, they were very dark, there was sexual assault against women. Poverty really started hitting these communities inside cities, housing policies started to change, they stopped giving preferential treatment to families, the point system started. (.) In the 60/70s, if your family lived in that community, you would get extra points to stay there. They changed that in the 80s. They used council estates for, actually rather than building communities for working class people, they used them as places to put the poorest people. And that’s where

38 we are actually now, you have to be absolutely in need to get any social housing.

(.) Whereas the ideology wasn’t about that, it was about communities for working class people close to where they worked. So where I grew up, everyone from my family lived on this estate. It was close to the mines, it was close to the factories, it was a working class community. Priority now is basically elderly people, disabled people. We’ve taken the priority to virtually nothing now. We’re not building communities now, council estates are being used as bins. I would always live on a council estate. They work when they are built around a community, not about moving communities. It’s not about socially engineering a community from an office, it doesn’t work that way. t

The Ocean Estate, in the 70s was a very transient place, people moving in and out. If it’s more permanent it makes a big difference. Also, with Geraldine and Simon from Architects for Social Housing we talk about how these new council estates were a new type of architecture back in the 60s and probably quite foreign to people when they first moved there. It takes at least a generation or two for communities to build again.

↱ See page 81

Ashington Estate → Ocean Estate



It does if you destroy them. But you don’t have to destroy them to build new housing. You shouldn’t destroy a community that’s already there in order for a new community. There is a new type of building, a new idea of how society should look, and then social engineer it. St. Ann’s in Nottingham was different, people could watch their houses being built. At the same time as they were building St. Ann’s in the 1960s, they were slum clearing. And actually people who lived in the old slums, the terraces could watch their house being built. So whole streets stayed together. It doesn’t have to destroy a whole community. But again, if you’re not from the community and you don’t understand it… The council does, what they call evaluation, they have a very limited questionnaire, they tick the boxes, that’s how they ask the community. j

Geraldine mentions a theatre group who organised workshops for young people with residents at Trellick Tower to gather stories for their performance. How can residents make their voices heard?

↱ See page 76


Ashington Estate → Ocean Estate


42 l

We’ve got to make space. Space is taken all the time, space is securitised, space has been closed down, there is no space. So we have to make space. How do they tell their own narratives? We make the space for that. Those of us who can we fight to hold that space. Whether it’s physical actual space, whether it’s social space, whether it’s a space on a block. But it is so difficult now because people who live on council estates do not trust people from the outside anymore. These are generations and generations of people who had constantly had their rug pulled away from them. t

You write about how residents ‘on the inside’ relate to and are perceived by those outside the council estate. How can these distinctions be undone? l

In Nottingham you definitely have this inside and outside, so people on the council estate don’t trust people on the outside, and I argue, why would you want to engage with the outside when they ridicule you, tell you that you don’t know, that you’re not good enough. Tell you ‘that’s a really nice idea’ and patronise you and then do what they want to do anyway. That’s what happened in St. Ann’s. St. Ann’s now is a shell. It did have a thriving community but again the local council decided what they thought was best. Now it’s got this multi service centre which is institutionalised – the library, housing office, the doctors, the chemist, it’s all in this institutionalised glass and chrome building, and it’s got security guards. And that’s replaced an old 70s precinct. The shopping area was called Robin Hood Chase, 24 it has a lovely name. It was a social space, it had a library, doctors, shops. And that has been knocked down. When they asked the community ‘do you what this knocked down?’ they said ‘no, we want to keep it’ and they knocked it down anyway. It doesn’t have a feeling that it is owned by the residents.


Ashington Estate → Ocean Estate



Which makes residents more passive. Whereas before, people could have actively engaged in their environment. 25


When they were designing the service centre they asked me for advice about spending £35,000 on art works for the service centre. I said to them to give these 35 grand to the community to let them produce their own art works. But they said it’s not going to happen because the local councillor hates graffiti art. He thinks it ghettoised the area. What I wanted to do is to get the community to create their own narratives through art. It’s wiping clean of who we are.


But also the assumption … anything could have happened with a community group making art. l

It could have been beautiful, it could have been amazing. The reason I said this, I’d been to Kilburn the week before, they did some great murals in Kilburn telling stories of working class.25 I said we can do this. We could be proud of our community and our history and we could put it all over. t

Nayia tells us how local resident Brenda Daley’s archive was included in artist Stephen Willats’s Whitechapel exhibition in 2014. Brenda’s private collection of objects, telling a personal and wider history, became part of a public exhibition. We think it is a good example of how a resident’s narrative becomes a public narrative. I think this is similar to a mural where you start thinking about your own history and about writing your own history.

↱ See page 56


Yes, and you tell it. There is a mural which was done in St. Ann’s in 2001, I think, the kids did it with a local graffiti artist and it’s all about positivity but it’s also a realistic image of the community. j

Where do residents’ narratives belong? l

Art has been owned by the middle class. And I don’t think art places are accessible – you do walk in and feel a bit intimidated. Creating that art and placing that art is just part of a narrative. There is a bigger narrative. Sometimes we should question the whole narrative and not just parts of it. Why should people who live on council estates engage with anybody? Why should they give up their time and resources which they have very little of to help you, the artist, with


your project? I’m in parliament this week speaking to the inequality commissions because they’re wondering somehow whether class should be a protected area in the same way that race and disability is. You can’t unpick one small thing of this. It has to be overall. People need to be treated with respect and value. It’s got to start there. (.) There’s a report by Savills: per square foot to live and to work here in London you’ve got to earn £80,000 and if you’re not earning £80,000 you’re taking up space. That’s the way I have read this. It’s not written that way but that’s what they’re saying. Each person is taking up this amount of space. But London is only part of the problem. They’re moving people out to other areas, to areas that are not worth anything. I’ve been doing research in Shirebrook recently. I’ve met women from London who have been moved up there. There’s been a system of exploitation set up in those areas. Shirebrook is a village, a model village, a miner’s village.

Ashington Estate → Ocean Estate


Sports Direct has moved there with a four-mile warehouse with horrendous work standards and they need workers. This is directly connected to this – to London. The narrative is much bigger. This is systematic, it’s not individual cases. j

So if you don’t earn that amount of £80,000, does that mean that someone is subsidising you here in London? l

Yes, you’re a waste of space. You are taking up space that doesn’t belong to you. You deserve to be in a cheaper area. I have heard this argument people make about Bethnal Green, Stratford… ‘Well if you can’t afford to live here, you’ve got to move out.’ This rationalised thinking about community life, its rationale is based on a neoliberal project. It’s not about community, it’s not about people’s life, it’s not about family, it’s about cold heart neoliberalism. t

Would you say it’s a war of space? l

Actually no, it’s a class war. If you take the £80,000 it’s a very rational way of classification. Who has that sort of wealth? The British are very good at keeping this classification very tight and very in order. We talk about social mobility now, I don’t want any social mobility, none. We rise together as a class. Social mobility is about cherry picking and removing people, let’s not do that. Let’s rise together as a class and argue the point together that people are valued and respected regardless.



Ashington Estate → Ocean Estate



Ashington Estate → Ocean Estate


50 Perspectives

Key Dates

I would like to see more facilities for the kids on the estate. Quiet facilities. We’ve got a chess club started but my kids won’t go to it, which is a shame. But you know, chess, dominoes, draughts. And I think they could bring the older person in with the younger person. Especially with chess and draughts, you get an older person playing chess and you get one like David; you’ll find they can meet on equal terms. They say the old and young can’t but they can; I’ve seen it done. —Kit Stone, resident, 23 July 1978 (Willats, 1996)

1943 One of the largest housing estates in London, covering 17 acres, proposed as part of the County of London Plan (the Abercrombie Plan)

Completion of the redevelopment will bring welcome changes, and increases the standard of living to all, while future daily management and maintenance of buildings, communal centres and leisure spaces will be controlled by tenants. In this respect a positive input is required from residents. —Christopher Chamont, 2005

1945 Design finalised by LCC planners and architects with Stepney Council 1978 Stephen Willats worked with residents between the estate and the Whitechapel Gallery 1983 Tenants Association submitted Plan For Action On Improvements

I was invited to have a retrospective exhibition of my work at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1978 and, as part of the planning, I wanted to introduce the idea to the curators that the exhibition could create a direct connection with the realities in the immediate neighbourhood. The location for Inside An Ocean was Dame Colet House which Kit Stone used as the office for the Tenants Association, Claimants Association and the Citizens Advice Bureaux. —Stephen Willats, 1978

1986 Tower Hamlets inherited responsibility (GLC dissolved)

The archive exhibition Stephen Willats: Concerning Our Present Way of Living takes place 35 years after a solo exhibition by Stephen Willats at the Whitechapel Gallery with the same title. It was mainly a retrospective exhibition of the artist’s work but it included an important new element; work made by Stephen Willats with community groups based in the Gallery’s vicinity. —Nayia Yiakoumaki, 2014

2010–14 Refurbishment of 1200 existing homes and development of 819 new homes across 5 sites

2001 Visited by Tony Blair 2003 Management transferred to the Sanctuary Housing Association as part of the New Deal for Communities programme

2017 Currently occupied

Ocean Estate File Notes

About our collaborator Nayia Yiakoumaki is a curator specialising in the use of archives as curatorial resource in addition to artworks. An experienced educator since 1991, and an artist. Since 2005 she has been the Curator: Archive Gallery at the Whitechapel Gallery where she has developed an innovative programme of exhibitions.

51 Walk 3 with Nayia Yiakoumaki

Ocean Estate ↘ Balfron Tower

52 j

We are at the Ocean Estate, where Stephen Willats carried out one of his earliest community projects in 1978. The estate has been regenerated, the building works are soon to finish. It is barely recognisable from the photographs that Stephen took and which he included in his books. When you worked with Stephen in 2014 for his exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery Archive, where did you begin? n What we decided to do was reverse the order of what Ste-

phen had done. We brought the project that he had materialised at the Ocean Estate into the Gallery. Therefore, the current residents could come to the Gallery and see it. This was a new action that for sure hadn’t taken place in ‘79. j

Could you tell us about how you and Stephen engaged with the local community when you revisited the project for the Archive exhibition in 2014? n Actually,

it took us a very long time to find one resident, Brenda Daley, who is currently a very active member of the Ocean Estate Residents Association. When I saw her and we spoke, she was very willing to work with us. The most concrete connection to residents was through her. She actually told me that since Stephen started that project in ‘79, 97% of the residents as well as the demographics of the residents, had changed. That made it very difficult to actually go back and find people who had seen the original project.

Ocean Estate → Balfron Tower j

Who did Stephen work with in 1978? 26




n Of

course, we tried to get in touch with the person that Stephen was very connected to at the time. Her name was Kit Stone, 26 an activist in her own right. We just couldn’t trace her anywhere. During the show at the Whitechapel in ‘79 there was a display at Dame Colet House, the community centre.27 That was the project out there, which Stephen didn’t bring into the Gallery, but that was very important because that display was what people on the Ocean Estate actually saw. The main important bit of the exhibition in 2014 was that we brought a replica of the display into the Gallery in a sort of gesture of not formalising it in the traditional way, but giving it credential.

What informed the way you curated the show in 2014? n It

was a small exhibition, nevertheless for me it was important to do that sort of twinning. I’m absolutely certain and I think so was Stephen, that the people who went to the Gallery in ‘79 never made it to the Ocean Estate to see that component. Such messages and geographical connections were not usual then in the art world. The people who lived here never came to the Gallery. So that show in 2014 was actually merging these two tendencies or art visitors’ approaches or curatorial approaches. (.) 28



I’m not sure if you’re familiar with what he did here? One part of the display had photographic descriptions that Stephen worked on with local residents.28 In order to produce these it had the processes, his writings and all the questionnaires. All the layers of the questionnaires, lots of packs of paper were hung in the Gallery just two years ago and they were the originals.29 I’m saying that because most artists would say ‘No way, I wouldn’t like anyone to touch them.’ or they would ask for barriers. We just had them hanging and it’s great because Stephen said ‘they are pieces of paper, they are questionnaires’ so people who came to the Gallery could see what people had written about their lives at the Ocean Estate.

I think that’s what was so interesting about Stephen Willats’ work. He actually split it, so if you wanted to see the whole picture you had to actually go to both places.

54 j

We’re just walking past the original site of Dame Colet House. It’s interesting to reflect on the distance between those involved then and now. What can the local community get from the artist and vice versa? n What

actually happened was, through what he did, the Gallery became very aware of our neighbours. I came here numerous times before that was demolished and I can’t believe it’s happened already! I was able to, in a way, take the history that was totally missed back to the Gallery. Previously we just had an entry in the exhibitions list: ‘Stephen Willats 1979’, what does this mean historically? Also to our staff ‘how can a history actually be debated?’ j

How were current residents involved in the exhibition in 2014? n I

was keen to show archive material from Brenda Daley’s personal archives. She had a lot of interesting things. She understands the community and she’s very politically engaged. There were lots of references, for instance the story of philanthropy around the Ocean Estate. Brenda had all the reports from St. Paul’s School for Girls, their newsletters and descriptions of what ‘good’ work they did at the Ocean Estate. She had photographs of when the Queen visited; these were her family’s personal archives. She pointed at a photo with the Queen and said ‘That’s my Mum here.’ I thought these were really important documents as a different type of understanding of what was going on at the time. So, we put them in a case in the Reading Room that’s adjacent to the Gallery. It wasn’t a huge piece but local residents came into the Gallery to see it. I was keen to merge the formal and the informal histories of the estate. t

I think that’s an interesting kind of collaboration as well where people give objects, memories or their own materials. n I

totally agree and the non-hierarchical way we perceive those artefacts at the Gallery. So, for me a letter from Brenda to her mother or a neighbour is as equally telling as the official letter from the Gallery or Tower Hamlets or Stephen’s own work. I know it’s hard to say because they have a different market value and artistic value. For me this material works hand in hand.

Ocean Estate → Balfron Tower



It also shows that an area has so many layers. As you go there and get to know more, you actually see these things which you wouldn’t see if you’re just passing through. When we were preparing ourselves we were talking about this idea of gallery space and non-gallery space and where art happens. I think with Stephen’s work it was interesting how he was playing around with where the artworks happened or where they were situated or shown. And it’s interesting to think that actually the institution at that point wasn’t really sure themselves.

n Of

course, because they had proposed a solo show with concrete examples of work and this was something that we didn’t know. Even Stephen didn’t know where it was going to lead. If people collaborate, you don’t know what they’re going to do or say. But I think what he did at the time was hugely important. The part he did at the Ocean Estate, it was a platform for people to share their lives and then come back again, revisit and comment on them. It was structured and it was directed by an artist, not a politician or a group of activists, which would have given it a different direction. I think it must have given ideas to local people. It’s not an artwork and maybe you do collect these questionnaires and you go to the local office at Tower Hamlets and you say we’ve got 500 pages here of people that say this and that. You know these things can be used as tools potentially...

56 j

Do you think it’s possible to evaluate the impact of Stephen’s work? n I can’t evaluate it because I wasn’t there. Bringing it back

again has another impact on the residents who are there now. Again, I can’t evaluate it because you’re never sure, these actions take time to actually form something that is solid. I do think the fact that the Whitechapel Gallery as the local Gallery at that stage was inviting a project that took place at a community centre here, may have triggered people to come and see how this history is represented, how their history is represented. It also formalised this unofficial history that came from one resident, Brenda Daley. t

What I found interesting about Stephen’s work was that he looked at things as they were but there was also this idea of possibility. I think sometimes in life you don’t have much room to think about possibility. Perhaps that’s what artists do in a way, they dream and think of possibilities. n And

tell them in this way ‘Your voice counts, you can change things’. t

And maybe these questionnaires, this writing down, this collecting is very much part of it. A lot goes on in people’s minds, but what happens when they write it down and when other people read it? It’s a way of sharing and connecting.

Ocean Estate → Balfron Tower


n Entirely,

and sometimes it’s interesting because you can see people were commenting on one another. For instance, someone said ‘I’m a single Mum, I have two or three kids, the flat is in terrible condition’, and then someone else was saying ‘Well if you don’t have money you shouldn’t have kids’. You could actually start seeing the relationships that were definitely suppressed on the estate. Things were now written and you could see certain dynamics between neighbours, political ideas and tendencies through very plain expressions like ‘If you don’t have money, don’t have children!’ t

That dialogue, it wouldn’t have to finish there, it could go on and on and she could reply ‘Well I want to have children because of this and that.’ n But

someone else could read it and think ‘This is a very conservative approach from this person who said that this mother is to be blamed in a way.’ I think it was that initiation of conversation, of exposure as well. It also became a powerful tool for campaigning, potentially campaigning. Knowing that the Ocean Estate had at least around that time a strong history of Residents’ Associations, you see that Stephen’s project could have encouraged and instigated more actions. Again, I’m not sure about this, Kit Stone could have told us more at the time. t

What do you think about his work being a tool for activism or community action?

58 n Oh,

I think that’s what he wants to do anyway. He’s very passionate and believes that the artist has a strong social role. He may sometimes be doing it in a way that is not so transparent to people who don’t understand cybernetics or systems’ theory. But he does that in the art environment. What he does when he speaks to people is he shares, he gives cameras. I think he would have loved it! I’m sure some of his projects must have done a lot of things we can’t evaluate now.


His work has a real sense of history. Parts of the East End, like the docks, have disappeared completely. We’re at the canal now, whose function has changed. That’s why walking for us is important because it’s a way of getting to know an area and getting a sense of its history in many ways. j

Testing boundaries and access, because quite often roads and paths just disappear or streets can be replaced and with those disappearing streets the memories can also be lost. How do you see the importance of the Archive Gallery in relation to the local community and vice versa?

Ocean Estate → Balfron Tower


n Since

we started the Archive Gallery in 2009, the intention has been to work with archives, especially institutional archives such as the Whitechapel Gallery’s. You start projects from these and you look at them. Nothing changes to the body of the institutional archive unless you allow these projects to infiltrate its formal, historical fabric. I’m very keen that all of these outcomes, researches, contacts that happen due to the research process, go back into the Whitechapel Gallery Archive. Therefore, a shift or a change in that structure takes place. So, Brenda Daley is forever there, connected with other artists’ histories and directors’ histories and so on and so forth. (.) The guidance I’m giving the archivist is that these histories, informal or not, just enter and change the archive. So, let’s say an academic or researcher will look up ‘1979 Stephen Willats’, they will actually also have the opportunity to see what happened when the Gallery decided to look back at that history. What else did we find? j

What was missed? n What

contradictions we discovered? All of these things go back, and so it’s a continuous process of changing the archive, enhancing it. Someone else might come in a few years’ time, either archivist or curator and just say ‘let’s do it differently.’

60 j

How have the housing conditions on the Ocean Estate changed? n Of

course, there’s been huge changes, some have been demolished, some have come up, right now it’s like a genealogy of buildings. At the Ocean Estate I’m not sure if any buildings survive from the beginning. I think there may be one or two, I don’t know if there are any old buildings. I’ve lived here in estates. There was one apartment in particular, they came to see us from Tower Hamlets and they called it ‘Dickens’ conditions because our windows were not closing properly, it was really cold. So, I take it that what was at my estate was at the Ocean Estate. t

Yes, I think one set of buildings is still there. I lived in one of the tower blocks. There were these three towers, near the church, very spacious, lots of space around. It was the best flat I ever lived in. I think they demolished it, not because it was bad quality, just because they could build more flats on the same amount of land. Maybe because it looked very 60s concrete and they didn’t want the look any more. A very different look now with these colour schemes. j

Like the spaces along the canal that are just to our right. They are very generic, they fit a certain lifestyle. Lots of different associations, interesting to compare them with the Dickens reference.

n It’s a different type of ‘Dickens’ condition now isn’t it? You

work, you spend less time in your house. All you need is a tiny living room, a nice kitchen. Looks good, but then it’s really a repetitive, box pattern isn’t it? And then in the shared ownership buildings, you’ll see that the ones with the views to the river are for the different income owners. And the ones that have people from the housing list, these apartments are always at the back, they look at different views. It’s so obvious now. In the past there was a mix, now it’s so divided!

Ocean Estate → Balfron Tower



And you have the more expensive flats further up as well that have the views. n You

have the chocolate box, which is the building with its glass and design, but within that are clearly demarcated areas and territories. This is more hypocritical than the estate used to be. The resonance of an estate is very different today. It’s all supposedly open and mixed and it isn’t. t

There’s a spatial hierarchy. n Definitely

a more concrete one, but it doesn’t show from the street. That’s the difference, I think. t

What we’re looking at is that housing estates were built at a certain time and with a certain purpose and a certain ideology. That political ideal is not there anymore. The way buildings are built now is very different. n I’m


part of the London Community Land Trust. It is really about allowing local people to live and buy in their area. So, we’re very lucky to have actually been allocated a flat so we can continue living in this area. The value is based on the average wage of Tower Hamlets, it’s one third of the price. They managed this by campaigning for 10-12 years to the Mayor, Ken Livingstone initially, then Boris Johnson and they finally got St. Clements,30 the psychiatric hospital next to Mile End station. It was an abandoned building. They campaigned for years and they got it in the end. What happens is you get the land for free. What you build doesn’t include the price of the land and in London this is huge. (.) I think our approach to the Land Trust building is quite traditional in that sense. We are creating a centre where all of the residents have contributed ideas about how it could be and what it would do. From time sharing to other skills, this idea seems utopian in the beginning but it’s actually happening. We’ve met with everybody. We already feel we know who our neighbours will be next year. We know them and we have already committed to doing things, so it’s very important that there’s a space.

62 j

Have you talked to the architect? n No,

the Land Trust had this role before we were allocated our flat. But the ideas were: spaces for living that are good in size, affordable and that can be forever. When you accept to buy, you accept that you won’t make money from it. When you resell, you sell it again to the local wage of the area. We don’t care about that now, because we want to stay here. You have to go through a series of commitments, a large application, interviewing. The three things are that I don’t want to make money from it; I want to contribute to the causes of the Land Trust; I’ve got enough money to get a mortgage. It started 15 years ago, the first in the country, they campaigned, they got it! And now that they have a site and their first residents to be, more have popped up and it can happen elsewhere. It’s just a matter of being very resilient and campaigning for space to get the land for free. Apparently in the States it’s a tested model. They were saying in New York there were 3000 homes (not buildings) based on land trust ideas. I just mentioned it because it is in the East End at this point in time, with the highest prices ever! It kind of takes you back to another possibility. j

Do you know the Ragged School Museum? 31


n Yes. j

I told them we were doing this walk and it was quite hard to find information but I managed to get a history of the Ocean Estate from them. What kept coming up in it was a reference to ‘a transient community’. It’s interesting to think about this in relation to the publication32 where you interviewed Stephen and talked over the idea of a transient community on the Ocean Estate. In particular, the conditions this set up for people and how they related to where they lived. The idea that they may just have been there for a short term. n Well,


at the time the idea was more of permanence, but it always related to financial reasons. I’m not sure who got into housing estates in the beginning. But maybe at some point it was taken as a temporary measure. Even for the people who lived on them because there was the ambition to move out of the estate. I’ve heard so much about moving out of the estate as an ambition. Not because you have to, not as it hap-

Ocean Estate → Balfron Tower


64 pens now in a more aggressive and violent way. So, I think depending on when, what decade we’re talking about of the twentieth century, we see different connections and understandings of a temporary situation or ideas of permanence. (.) Again, the market has totally changed our ideas of permanence. I come from Greece, where people didn’t have any homes after the Second World War. Until about ten years ago, a family would work very hard and in their 50s or 60s would get a house that their children could have. So, people didn’t buy homes, they inherited homes. That idea of permanence, you have a home that is permanent, goes from family member to family member. When I came here and saw people buy homes every five years, I just couldn’t understand it. Our sense of permanence is not connected to our habitat any more. t

Even if some groups in a community stay in their flats for a long time, everything around them changes. I imagine there is a general sense of constant change that makes it more difficult to feel settled. This is why it’s so important to keep documenting and creating these archives on any level.


Ocean Estate → Balfron Tower



Ocean Estate → Balfron Tower



Ocean Estate → Balfron Tower


70 Perspectives

Key Dates

One advantage of this particular tall block is the magnificent view of the River Thames and its shipping. In fact, I feel rather reluctant to leave it and return to my own house in Hampstead. —Ernö Goldfinger, 1968

1963 Designed for the LCC by Ernö Goldfinger

It’s actually quite an intimidating, quite an impending building. The beauty wasn’t apparent there when I first saw it really. But as I said after like, you know, maybe after six months, definitely after twelve months it just had really acquired like an intrinsic beauty really for me. My parents came down to visit me once. They’re quite well-to-do from their little village in Warwickshire. When they saw the estate and the building they were waiting for me downstairs and they locked themselves in the car! —Former resident, 2015

1965–1967 Built by the GLC 1968 Opened and lived in by Goldfinger and his wife Ursula for 2 months 1996 Grade II listed 2007 Ownership transferred from Tower Hamlets Council to Poplar Housing and Regeneration Community Association (HARCA) 2009–2016 Flats decommissioned by Poplar HARCA or occupied successively by hundreds of artists under the work/live scheme run by Bow Arts Trust or by property guardians. Residents decanted 2015 Application to raise status to Grade II* supported by The Twentieth Century Society 2017 Currently empty

Balfron Tower File Notes

About our collaborators Geraldine Dening and Simon Elmer are the co-founders of Architects For Social Housing (ASH) which was set up in March 2015 to respond architecturally to London’s housing ‘crisis’. They are a working collective of architects, urban designers, engineers, surveyors, planners, filmmakers, photographers, web designers, artists, writers and housing campaigners operating with developing ideas under set principles.

71 Walk 4 with Simon Elmer and Geraldine Dening

Balfron Tower ↙ Robin Hood Gardens

72 j

Nayia talks to us about an exhibition Stephen Willats had in the 1970s at the Ocean estate community hall where he exhibited questionnaires put to residents. He published a book 33 about it later. ↰ See page 55


s That

was a very good book actually. It was right in the middle of punk. It wasn’t about the demolition of social housing but about whether it worked as a social space.


Through the questionnaires residents started having a dialogue once they were all together. Talking about what they liked about the estate and what they didn’t like about it. s I

think it was mostly focussed on tower blocks, on the problems of living in tower blocks. A lot of the things they were saying have been subsequently used as tropes. These myths you hear that tower blocks are all bad and that it isolates people from going to the ground and talking to each other are the negative myths about social housing. We spend so much of our lives trying to dispel or to challenge them. They are used as a blanket characterisation of everything that is called social housing or council housing. g It

takes a long time to build a community. It’s taken two generations to establish a community on a lot of the estates that we’ve worked with. They’re very well established now. You have grandparents over the road, literally on the same estate, looking after the grandchildren.

Balfron Tower → Robin Hood Gardens


s Sometimes

three generations. In the ‘70s, estates weren’t being used the way they were originally used when they were about mixed communities. Labour passed a law in the mid ‘70s that meant that councils had an obligation to house anyone who became homeless. Labour did it because they were trying to do a good thing. Thatcher came along and said ‘right, anyone who’s got any problems’ – social problems, mental health problems, drug problems, anyone who is unemployed, anyone who has fallen out of their perfect world is just thrown onto estates without any support networks and I think that was present in the book. There were people who were transient, they hadn’t chosen to go there and communities hadn’t really formed. Thirty years later those communities have formed. Actually, all those negative characterisations are still being applied to what are very well established communities now.


Six years ago now I was living in Fairchild House on the Frampton Park Estate in Hackney. I photographed all of my neighbours except the ones who didn’t open the door. I actually asked the neighbours who did to tell me about them. It was really interesting to see the knowledge within the community and how well people knew each other. Some of them were friends, some were more of a casual relationship. What was really nice for me was that once I’d done the project I knew everyone. It just made such a difference. g A 34

difference for them as well. Some people have never even been to other areas of their estates. With the Open Garden Estates 34 some of the consultations and events are based around particular buildings. You’ll have a table with everyone meeting who lives in that building and they don’t know each other. In some ways these projects are all about opening up to the ‘oh wow we do have these connections’.

74 s It’s

not just the cultural idea of housing which is the terrace. Collective, communal spaces are predicated on the idea of being part of a social body. You’ll find that the real communities in London, communities with people from lots of different backgrounds, do exist in these blocks and around them because they have communal areas. They don’t in a terrace. In a terrace you’ve got the private and the public and there’s very little in between them. You had the places in the street where kids played and people came out, that doesn’t exist any more. Whereas these still work as social spaces.

(.) I love the conversations I have from the time it takes to go from Geraldine’s 9th floor down to the bottom. I meet a lot of people on that estate, people know me and we have these kind of very, almost like being on twitter, you’ve got forty words two and a half minutes in that lift to have a little conversation. Places being characterised as anti-social is just not true, they’re actually the opposite. We’re fascinated by these communal areas. Landings, lifts, concierge places, that’s where people meet and talk. g The

accusations that are being launched at them are very rarely from people who live there. Who is actually criticising these homes and places and environments and who isn’t? People that typically live there are very positive about their experiences and people that don’t are the ones that point the finger. It is and was a new kind of space which if you haven’t lived in it is alien to people. All they’re doing is pointing a finger at it and are afraid of it, rather than trying to get to know it or understand it.

Balfron Tower → Robin Hood Gardens


s We

see a lot of estates, we get taken around by the people that live there and it’s a real privilege. We talk to a lot of residents and almost none of the complaints are about the design. There are certain things that might have become slightly outdated or antiquated - the refurbishment, the lack of it, the maintenance of it. That’s what residents care about, they actually love the estates. They’re very mixed up in their community whereas the people who are demolishing them have never lived on an estate. The national policy on estates regeneration is headed up by Michael Heseltine, who I doubt has ever met anyone who has even been on an estate, let alone lived on one himself! j

This makes me think of when Goldfinger and his wife lived at Balfron Tower.35 Do you think it’s important to do so or to have a presence as Goldfinger did at Trellick Tower, where he had his architect’s practice at the end of his career? 35

g I

don’t think you all get the ability to live in the places you make but you should always be designing something you would aspire to live in. s It’s

absolutely necessary to go in and talk to people about their homes. Like I said before about the Balfron, you have to turn these things inside out. Nowadays everyone talks about similarity, homogeneity, that’s not what the grid’s about, that’s when it’s bad. This is a good use of the grid.36 We’ve been in, someone invited us up, you know the proportions of them, the way they’re laid out, the relationship to the balcony. They inspire variety and inside they’re incredibly different. t

How has the perception of this kind of architecture changed? 36

s I

can imagine all the connotations of this. Raw concrete, Brutalist, it’s by the Blackwall Reach, all these negative things. Now suddenly this is chic ‘60s flats, kind of nostalgia. Funky retro flats now being marketed and advertised not as sink estates but as upmarket homes for the bankers who run Canary Wharf. It just shows that the perception of it has got nothing to do with the reality of it, it’s all about what’s created. What we do is try to dispel those myths and promote much more positive images of it.

76 t

Do you think residents’ realities can be communicated? With Open Garden that’s one way to bring people in. g There’s

a theatre group called the SPID and they work with residents, particularly young people on estates in Kensal Rise. The first play we saw was very much about oral histories. Children and young people on the estate would gather these histories and put together stories. It’s about meeting the elderly woman who lives at 93 who’s been there for eighty years and extracting her story to become a theatre play around the estate, a kind of performance.37 The estate is as much about the residents celebrating their spaces, as it is about being a projection from the outside world. s They

do begin to believe their own propaganda in a way. SPID Theatre actually did Trellick Tales, a series of performances. Trellick Tower 38 is the sister to this. 37


We’re outside the Brownfield Cabin, activities take place daily on the ground floor and there’s a bar with pool and darts on the first floor run by local people. How important do you think these community centres are? g Again,

it’s amazingly important. People from the outside don’t have any awareness of the ways these places are used. There’s one where I live which is pretty much booked out every day of the week. And that’s everything ranging from weddings to birthday parties to meetings to TRA’s. It is the heart of the community, probably one of the most important spaces on the whole estate. s So

the councils and housing associations realise it’s not just the heart of the community but it’s where they can organise, they can contest them. So the first thing they do in almost every case, I can’t think of an exception, is that they prohibit them using it.

Balfron Tower → Robin Hood Gardens


g A 38


lot of the problems around estate demolition is that communities don’t even know what’s happening to them. So there isn’t a structure necessarily in place for things to be disseminated or for information to be communicated. Therefore there isn’t a resistance put up because that community has gone through the destruction of the architecture [community centre]. There’s a very clear link between the community and these community buildings. If you can only meet in a room that holds twenty people maximum, you can’t ever have a conversation between two to three hundred people. It prohibits anything beyond that and then strangles it. So there’s that correspondence.

We see community centres as spaces where political and social action can take place. We started at the Boundary Estate with the bandstand, which is also the central focal point for the community and we were saying this is also a place for celebration and recreation which is also very important within a community; and then the community centre as the place where people come together, they are able to team up and identify problems and things they have in common.

78 g I

think there’s a desire to remove that possibility of social engagement happening. It’s more insidious than that, they’re consciously designing these spaces out. You have your car parking space in front of your house, you go straight into your car. s When

they demolish these estates they don’t put in the kind of infrastructures that actually creates communities. These estates were conceived as radically new social spaces for people to live in and so the communal facilities were at the heart of them. j

Balfron Tower is now empty. All the residents were decanted. There are complications now that it is listed at Grade II*. Can you reflect on some connections and differences between Balfron Tower which is going to be preserved but at the expense of social housing and Robin Hood Gardens which is due to be demolished? s If you tell people ‘we’re going to kick you out and demol-

ish your homes’ people are going to put up a fight. When you tell them, as they were told at Balfron ‘we’re going to decant you, renovate your homes and then move you back in’ people are much more willing to go. When people from Balfron went, they didn’t really know when to fight. They kind of got them out and then they said ‘oh, you can’t come back in’. The thing about demolition, or the regeneration process as they call it, is that the decisions about what is going to happen are made years and years and years before. They are made with the builders, developers, financiers, real estate agents, anyone who’s got any investment in it and they will come to a lot of decisions about those way before they get architects in. g Also

the decline of these places starts even earlier and that is something that is managed. Quite a lot of that started not long after they were finished. In many cases there haven’t been refurbishments done on them for twenty years. That’s pre-meditated, that sows the seeds for them saying ‘look how much it’s going to cost to refurbish it’. Well, if they had managed it and maintained it adequately in those last twenty years we wouldn’t be looking at those kind of figures. So they’re using their own lack of maintenance as an argument for demolition.

Balfron Tower → Robin Hood Gardens



When Goldfinger built it, he originally wanted a concierge but it never happened. Later his assistant James Dunnett submitted a design to RIBA for a concierge, again it wasn’t built. Ken is of the view that the upkeep of the building as well as the programming of events and things that would go on in the community centre should be factored in to its original build cost.

↰ See page 22

g The

block that I live in, there’s three towers, it’s down in Kennington. We have a concierge and it wasn’t built into the original structure. I think it was added in the late 80s, early 90s and there had been several attempts over the last few years to remove it because obviously it’s a cost. But everybody knows he’s the heart of that community. He knows everybody, he’s the person to go to when something goes wrong, to celebrate when something goes right. I think you’re right and I think it’s made a huge difference to that place. He’s really important and valued and everybody recognises that. It goes again to show that by doing something so simple suddenly transforms it. So I think again, it should be about dispelling the myth that this architecture inherently invites anti-social behaviour. No, actually a lot of what is perceived can be improved quite cheaply without any major interventions. (.) Cities learn, they evolve all the time. That’s natural evolution and you change a bit. You might change the roof, you change the windows and in the same way these estates should also be allowed to learn about themselves. Maybe the communities were teenagers, they grew up, they wrestled a bit and then they matured. That’s what we’ve seen in the last twenty years or so, a maturity both of the estates and an awareness of how they want to be used to allow them to evolve. These are not so fixed in stone, or concrete, there’s a huge amount that can be done.


Balfron Tower → Robin Hood Gardens



England is traditionally a place where people have little front gardens. Suddenly they’re in a tower block, where in between public and private space, there’s another space. People are not sure initially. Is this my space? Is it a space that doesn’t belong to anyone? j

Apart from the concierge, what would you do differently? g Really

that comes from a deep set of consultations with the residents. It’s a really thorough process. It’s spending as much time as possible with people from all sorts of age groups, backgrounds, from kids to grandparents, to understand how they use it and what they perceive as being needed. s What


we’re confronted with by resident campaigns is that they’re told there’s no money for refurbishment, there’s no money to maintain these homes, they need to be demolished. We don’t believe in demolition. Going back to what we were saying, cities are accumulated spaces, physically, culturally. Erasing cities, parts of cities is an ideological gesture, it’s always about forgetting. It’s not by chance that this very special period in London’s history, when you had this kind of socialist notion of architecture certainly motivated by places like this, is trying to be eradicated as a failure. People talk about this as being a socialist nightmare, as a dream gone wrong, as fundamentally flawed. It’s not just the building but the ideology behind it. So it’s a real ideological gesture to erase it from our memory. So what we do is, we propose additional homes that we can build through infill because a lot of these estates were built when land was nowhere near as rare as it is in London now. When these two were built out here, this was a very different area to what it is now. g Refurbishments are about improving the places that are al-

ready there and that includes coming through an understanding that the residents have an insight to give. To raise those funds from a sustainable economic model, funds to refurbish, they would need to be raised by building additional homes. s The

last thing we should be doing is demolishing those homes. This is only going to make the housing crisis worse. But if we want to build more homes, we can build them on these estates. There is room for it. That’s our model, that’s the ASH model.39

82 I was just looking up about the ballots that were done here [Robin Hood Gardens]. In 2008 the council produced a ballot of residents that showed that 75% of Robin Hood Gardens residents were in favour of demolition. One of the residents, the next year, conducted his own ballot of residents. He found out in his ballot that 80% of the people were in favour of refurbishment. One of the things he pointed out was that the initial ballot out of 240 homes had got about 94 people on it. He managed to cover something like 60%. Now those two are not compatible. g I

came to visit this the first time less than two years ago. I was really shocked and surprised at the scale of it. That it’s actually much more subtle and sensitive than I’d expected. The narrative they want to tell about Robin Hood Gardens is that it’s an alienating one [from the outside]. They’re not interested in telling the story of this fantastic wilderness in here, which is just great! s I

haven’t looked at the detailed plans of this, they’re being done by Howard Tompkins.40 This big green patch in here according to austerity aesthetics and politics is wasteland. Because it’s not being used to generate a place for private sale. What’s been proposed to replace these things is poor, bad architecture, in my view. It doesn’t have anything like the vision of a place like this.41



Balfron Tower → Robin Hood Gardens


g They

are fantastic spaces. You can’t recreate an East End terrace street on the third or fourth or fifth floor but you can create these new kinds of spaces which have a new quality to them, which I think have to be explored and loved.


s The

Smithsons 42, when they talked about this, were against the idea of erasure. They talked about the city as a human agent. Architects had to make do with this palimpsest of history, different architectural ideas and inheritance. It’s sad, disgraceful that this innovative estate… There was a very strong architectural campaign to save it, although as we’ve seen listing doesn’t save it.


Would you be able to work with any of these concepts? If the physical fabric of the building is destroyed, would it be possible to convey some of the traditional thought that went into it? g You

start off any project afresh. You start off with what’s in front of you. What the context is, what the immediate environment is, who you’re building it for. It’s about what is appropriate and all those kinds of things. s We’re

confronted by ‘there’s no money and you have to come and save this estate.’ We’re actually getting a bit trapped by this austerity framework and we’ve learnt to put a little bit of excess in our designs. There is this idea that the people that live in these estates, mostly the working class community, don’t deserve anything, that they can get by with the minimum. Anything else is just scrounging off the state. j

Maybe we should have the opposite of a listing process, to identify, name and shame. g We

did, we had an idea to give them an anti-social housing award, an ASBO and give it to a house.

84 s Not

only are they badly designed, bad as architecture, they are very badly built. We think they’re all going to be pulled down within a decade. It’s throwaway culture. We’ll rebuild it again because that generates profits. But the actual function as architecture which has many dimensions is worthless. This is going to be looked back on as the worst period in architecture. t

In our walk with Nayia we talk about community land trusts. What are your thoughts? Do you have other ideas about what could be done by individuals or groups?

↰ See page 61

s Housing

associations are private companies now. They still enjoy charity status, but they are private. They are converting social housing into affordable and then they develop it. The leaders in that industry have said that they’re not here to build homes for low-income people. They’ve said it outright. I don’t think either are options at the moment. If housing associations aren’t the answer and the councils are washing their hands of it – starved of funds, run by lobbyists in the building industry – the question of this third sector could apply. It is in the community land trust that people are forging a third way where it’s not public. Maybe it’s like these communal areas I was talking about, neither public nor private. They have to become these communal areas where the local community has taken responsibility. I think that’s something communities are going to have to confront, face or they’re just going to get kicked out. It could be a good thing, people will start taking back control over their lives.

g The

community land trust essentially is a bond over the estate or the land and the houses with a set of conditions on it. I imagine that each set of conditions is unique to that particular place. Those conditions can always be altered. I wonder whether it’s to do with scale. On a smaller scale the way in which something is run and managed is really successful.

Balfron Tower → Robin Hood Gardens



This is quite a cultural shift from the terraced street, where you have your own house, your own front garden to these confused spaces, the streets in the sky where nobody quite knows if they should be cleaning outside their front door or if a management company or someone else should be cleaning it. We’re talking here about a big shift in how we live. s Some of

the problems on these buildings are not knowing where that gap is between what I clean up and throw away. If there’s a bit of rubbish here, is it my duty to pick it up? I think with land trusts perhaps, that makes the community look after themselves. There’s nobody to come and fix my roof, they do it themselves. What’s the next step? We need to create a community space… g that’s

protected. Going back to this idea about time and how you embed yourself in a place. It takes a while to figure out how something works. You’ll pick up the rubbish anyway because that’s what you do. Again, it’s taking pride in a place. It takes more than just one generation even to start to engage and understand how something works through an innate language of how to use spaces.



Balfron Tower → Robin Hood Gardens



Balfron Tower → Robin Hood Gardens



Balfron Tower → Robin Hood Gardens


92 Perspectives

Key Dates

The imminent demolition of Robin Hood Gardens indexes the wider destruction of council housing, in a geographical site on the fault-line of inequality where the wealthy part of London’s Docklands meets and ejects some of the UK’s poorest communities. It marks also the dramatic end of quality mass housing through modernist architecture, as this Brutalist slum clearance is itself declared unfit for human habitation after only 40 years. Deploying the stigmatizing rhetoric of the ‘sink estate’ and ‘concrete monstrosity’, the local and national state has appropriated residents’ dissatisfaction with poor maintenance to its case for demolition, so justifying clearance of a low-income and socially diverse community from secured council tenancies and high-value land. —Dr Nick Thoburn, 2015

1960s Designed by Alison and Peter Smithson

Brutalism’s most recognisable characteristic was its insistence on leaving materials in their raw, unfinished state. But in terms of how a building actually functioned, its most important innovation in housing design was ‘streets in the sky’. It is perhaps for this reason that the streets in the sky at Robin Hood Gardens have an unmistakable bravura: thanks to a clever structural solution that eliminated the need for vertical supports, they appear as uninterrupted bands encircling the two pincer-like slab blocks that turn in towards each other around a raised garden. –Owen Hopkins, 2017

1972 Estate opened 2008 Preservation campaign led by the Twentieth Century Society 2009 Granted a Certificate of Immunity from listing by the DCMS 2014 The Twentieth Century Society challenged a further five-year period of immunity from listing by Tower Hamlets Council 2015 Demolition approved as part of the Blackwall Reach Regeneration project 2017 Currently occupied

Robin Hood Gardens File Notes

About our collaborator Catherine Croft has been Director of the C20 Society for over ten years and is Editor of the C20 magazine. Catherine read Architecture at Cambridge University and did an MA in Material Culture & Architectural History in the USA, where she held a fellowship at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware. She lectures to post graduate building conservation students throughout the UK and runs the Conservation of Historic Concrete course at West Dean. She has published a book on Concrete Architecture and is working on a volume of case studies of successful concrete conservation with the Getty Conservation Institute in LA.

93 Walk 5 with Catherine Croft

Ocean Estate ↑ ↑ ↑ Robin Hood Gardens



Our walks have been interesting because people have been coming from different backgrounds and different experiences and it’s nice to start connecting things and bringing things up, so we might refer to what people have said in previous walks. It’s really about trying to make these connections. I think Robin Hood Gardens has come up in all our conversations. j

Why did you campaign to save it to the extent you did? c Well,

we thought it was an interesting building and we thought it was pretty monstrous that it was turned down for listing. So, it was partly about challenging the criteria for listing. We felt that it was an estate that had had such a troubled reputation that we didn’t want to put it forward for listing unless we were convinced that it could provide good quality housing for people in the future. I think we’ve gone further down the route of trying to assess its functionality than we normally would have done. We got housing specialists to come and look at it with me and we’ve done quite a lot of talking to people on the estate. I was just really annoyed that a lot of the reasons given for not listing it were about the myths around it rather than anything factual about it having not worked. There was lots of stuff about graffiti as evidence of vandalism. It was an intellectually weak argument against listing to start with.

Robin Hood Gardens → Ocean Estate j


How do you prioritise what cases you take on? c It’s

a combination of caring passionately about the building in question and picking cases that might actually have an impact on decision making about listing other places. We wanted to show that it is lack of maintenance and flawed housing policy and management as opposed to architecture which is blighting these estates. We wanted to uncover the ideas behind the original design and show that these could still hold good. j

How far does your remit spread? Being drawn into lots of different debates with different people, as we are in these conversations, how do you know which battles to pick?

c Well,

we’re an architectural preservation society, so we select buildings that we think are architecturally and historically significant. That has to be the bottom line. To a certain extent we’re fairly pragmatic about prioritising buildings that we think we might be able to get listed. Without listing, particularly on post war housing, it’s very difficult to fight redevelopment. I’d known about Robin Hood Gardens for a long time. I’d once applied for the job of Conservation Officer for Tower Hamlets and was actually offered the job. I remember in the interview sitting in an office where you could see Robin Hood Gardens out of the window and they said ‘oh what do you think might be the future big issues we might have to deal with?’ and I just went ‘that one there!’ (.) I really like concrete. When I first came here I felt quite passionately, as well, about people that I met. There was a really great gardening club going. I met a nun who’d been


doing a lot of social work here and she spent a lot of time introducing me to people. I just felt that above and beyond the architectural matters, it would be destroying a community to clear this place out. Although it’s nothing to do with my work remit, that probably did encourage me to go the extra mile, in terms of getting us really involved. t

To what extent do you consider the community, or how does it come up in your assessment of architecture and buildings? c Well, legally there’s this argument about whether a build-

ing was ‘fit for purpose’ in the beginning. So it can be a legitimate ground for not listing something if it can be shown that it never worked from day one. That was one of the arguments around this estate. Did it provide decent housing that people felt safe in, or was it completely trashed from the first day the tenants moved in? So I suppose, to a certain extent I do need to be aware of those sorts of things, purely technically. I do think the most interesting things about post war housing are the ideas about how you get people to interact. To have those casual interactions, the equivalent of sitting on your doorstep or the old East End thing of being out there scrubbing your door step and chatting to your neighbour next door scrubbing hers.

Robin Hood Gardens → Ocean Estate


(.) When I came here I was just really interested in how the streets in the sky work. I was just fascinated by that, particularly as a lot of the design of this estate is about making a quiet space in the middle sheltering the area we’re walking through here from the roads and all the traffic noise. But the streets in the sky are on the outside, so in some ways that’s counter intuitive. I was quite surprised by how dead easy it was to get up on the balconies. You know, people were very happy to let me in. But then it did feel quite extrovert, it felt like people were leaving play equipment and plant pots and there were kids playing. It did seem, for a predominately Muslim community, that it was that kind of safe semi-private space, where it was easy for women and children to be together. t

And still able to look out, to feel free. c It

is part public part private isn’t it?


We talk about this in previous walks, that maybe initially people were unsure about how to treat these spaces, which they maybe hadn’t known before, when people still lived in terraced houses. c I don’t know, I wasn’t here to do a sociological study from

day one. One thing I remember was being shown an image of a bit of graffiti on a sign, it’s a bow and arrow for Robin Hood Gardens and I was shown that as an example of ‘terrible graffiti from day one’ and I thought that’s really funny, that’s quite a cool joke. t

That could be read as a sign of taking pride in your environment… c Rather than 43

the identity that’s being given to it. Whether it worked originally, I mean, there were some people who told me it had always been a nice place to live. I think what’s interested me in talking to lots of the Bengali families here was that a lot of them were from large family groups. They would have different family members spread out over all of the estate. That meant that kids would be meandering between many flats and that the walkways seemed to facilitate that in a nice way.43

98 t

It’s more of a shame now that it’s going to be demolished after people have got to know these spaces and use them as they ought to be used.


c In

a project with the architect Sarah Wrigglesworth, we asked her to look at the extent to which it would be possible to adapt the flats and to provide a variety of different sizes of flats. Looking at which walls were structural and would be very difficult to move and which ones not. She showed that you could have a wide variety of different options.44 Because one of the things I was told was that there weren’t enough large flats. She also put some extra accommodation on the top, on the roof of each block, which I suppose in pure conservationist terms probably would rather it stayed as it was. I didn’t feel that would have a major detrimental impact on it and it began to address the question that part of the reason the building is being demolished is because there is such a pressure on land for housing in London and the scheme for redevelopment puts a lot more units on the site. j

It’s seven years after you published your Re-visions 45 report, how do you appraise the estate now, looking at it again?


c Well,

I think it looks sad doesn’t it? It must have just been very difficult living here and not knowing, probably assuming, that you were going to be moved on but not quite knowing when. j

All the while people coming and taking pictures and making an exhibition of it. c Yes, all that Open House stuff, everyone telling you it’s an

architectural masterpiece, no-one coming and fixing your bathroom. I think that would be extraordinarily frustrating at the very least, if not make you sick to the back teeth and never want to meet another architect in your life ever. It had an energy about it when I came here back then and it has lost that hasn’t it? 45 j

We talked about the way that nature has started to overgrow and claim back some of the land. There’s a strange shift going on.

Robin Hood Gardens → Ocean Estate


c As

the buildings look more and more neglected, it’s hard not to look at trees in full blossom and concentrate on them as one bit of positive energy in the whole place. t

The interior green is such a surprise if you approach it from the outside and usually it’s known from the outside. c But

this was a really important point of the whole development, of making this space. Making it not just somewhere for people to walk in but just the sheer joy of being able to look down on this.


Robin Hood Gardens → Ocean Estate



And be able to go up here and get a sense of your neighbourhood. j

It’s almost as if the ideas behind it are being reversed. So what you’ve described as a quiet space and an area for kids to play is now seen as somewhere that would be money making. Exactly the opposite. c A

development opportunity. This is particularly happening in estates all across London. Quite often the new schemes are by good architects and the buildings they are proposing are well designed and providing accommodation to a good standard. But they are being forced to put them into spaces that were designed as breathing spaces for the estate they’re being inserted into. The whole process feels claustrophobic.

102 t

What I like about it is that there’s actually not a single shop. Obviously you’re not far from local amenities but here is a space for nature and green. Well, it’s a constant part of developments today. Very often you see lots of retail units, so homes are very tied in with consuming and buying. c It’s

a good point because it’s felt you need a corner shop where you can go and buy a pint of milk and there isn’t anything here. I get your point about the ubiquity of consumption, but the positive side of having a shop is that it becomes a source of local knowledge and chance encounters. t

As a meeting point and social space.


In response to the immunity to listing you asked for a Freedom of Information Act on the report. Did that unearth anything? c Well

it didn’t really produce anything particularly surprising and it didn’t, from my point of view, produce conclusive evidence for the reasons for turning down the listing. An awful lot of it was fairly subjective opinion. The more I think about it the crosser I feel. j

How does this case compare to others you are dealing with?

c At


the moment we’re also looking at the Smithson’s Economist building 46 in Westminster which you know has the three towers on a plaza. There’s a scheme to re-use the basement car park as a gallery and as part of that they wanted to put in a little staircase up from gallery level onto the plaza and add a couple of roof lights. The Twentieth Century Society supported that application and I felt it was a level of change and adaptation that was fine. But we had no end of criticism for not taking a much tougher stance.

Robin Hood Gardens → Ocean Estate


(.) Out here it feels that no-one gives a damn about the architectural or historical significance and there is much less public scrutiny than in central Westminster. All around Robin Hood Gardens there are some pretty useless, pretty mundane new housing blocks going up which just don’t seem to have the energy and imagination and ambition of this estate and that seems to me to be quite tragic. t

What has come up in our walks is that post war social housing estates are backed by a social and political ideology. In our previous walks we talk about how they are being demolished also because of what they represent. c I

think they’re being demolished because of economics. But we had an interesting debate. Somebody offered to lend us some money to do up a flat, to do one flat and make it look incredibly lovely. I felt that the presumption behind that was that today you could maybe sell the estate as a private development and that it would end up full of city boys’ pied a terres. We had a lot of discussions about whether that was a fate worse than demolition because it would be so contrary to the social objectives of the scheme from the beginning. I did find that very hard. I feel that as an organisation we really ought to be focussed on the architectural and historical interest. Emotionally it felt entirely right not to go down that route. But I did feel tugged between my intellectual loyalties to the conservation arguments and my feelings that there is a bigger picture here we need to be mindful of.

104 j

I wonder how you think the ideals and the beliefs of the Smithsons compare with the driving force that’s causing regeneration of estates like Robin Hood Gardens on this scale? c The

broader picture of how subsidised housing should be provided and the arguments about the percentages of affordable housing are things I personally care about. But I have to be rigorous about what my professional remit is. Obviously the historic interest of an estate will include those ideals so it isn’t something you can slice up neatly. I try not to be drawn into the politics any more than I have to. t

But I think that’s what makes it so interesting. You have architects here with very strong ideals. j

What do you think the affect of the Balfron Tower listing upgrade had on the residents who were considered in the nomination for the upgrade as being essential to the value of the estate? c I

think that we hoped that by securing the upgrade we would get a scheme that kept more of the original fabric of the building. An awful lot of this goes in the skip as part of this scheme. The scheme hasn’t really been modified in recognition of the fact that the building has been upgraded at all. j

Why was that?

Robin Hood Gardens → Ocean Estate


c Well, I think that both Historic England and the planning

authority felt that they wanted the scheme to go ahead. I felt particularly that if they were going to make this whole block private that it would be possible to find people who wanted to positively make the choice to live in an authentic, architect designed apartment. Part of the point of Balfron is that Goldfinger designed everything down to the detail of the kitchen cabinets. In some ways there was always an argument that if people have less choice about where they live in social housing then maybe it’s more unreasonable to hold out for a conservation approach. But if you’re saying ‘would you like to come and buy a fantastic limited edition Goldfinger apartment?’ then maybe you should do the best you can to provide that authentically, rather than delivering a sort of 60s Brutalist themed apartment. j

Will the playground be retained? 47 c I don’t think so but I’m not sure. Part of the problem, part 47

of the idea about securing the upgrade was obviously to try to influence the landscaping as well. But in fact when they listed the tower at Grade II* they were much more rigorous about where they drew the boundary line. The boundary of the Grade II* listing is right along the toe of the slab, whereas when it was listed at Grade II the playground was included. So in a way the upgrade left the ancillary bits with less protection than they’d had before.


I was reading about the conservation-led approach to restoring a building. Is that a helpful distinction, what does it mean when that term is used? c Well, if I was using it I would mean that I would recognise

that it’s a building that’s architecturally and historically interesting. The physical fabric of the building was part of what made it significant. I’d be trying to minimise the amount of intervention and certainly minimise the amount of permanent irreversible intervention. Just trying to re-emphasise the qualities it had to start with. Making it more of itself, rather than trying to reinvent it or rebrand it, on the basis that it shouldn’t need reinventing or rebranding if it’s a really good building in the first place. But not that it should mean not doing anything or not upgrading it because I think that’s completely unrealistic. Certainly any scheme here would

106 need to address energy conservation, security, lots of factors. We’ve got a lot of different objectives that need to be met here than when the buildings were first put up. j

One of the things we talked about in previous walks was how do you square the cost of such a refurbishment once it’s listed with retaining the building’s original social function, it was built for families? c Well

I think the problem at the moment is, it’s not really possible to do any sort of refurbishment scheme and retain the proper social housing occupancy throughout the building. It’s all a game of stacking up different combinations of private and shared ownership and social housing, isn’t it? t

We’re leaving concrete behind now and are going to look at the Ocean Estate. c So

this is the Festival of Britain school, the Lansbury School with the Peggy Angus tiles that I really like.48


Robin Hood Gardens → Ocean Estate



On our walk with Simon and Geraldine, the Architects for Social Housing, we talk about their engagement with residents as well as the social responsibilities of architects and the way in which the consultation is really important. The voices of residents seem to be something that has been consistent through the conversations we’ve had. Is there such a thing as good regeneration? 49

c Good

as opposed to ‘successful’? ‘Successful’ always begs the question ‘Successful for whom?’ Are you trying to maintain the same community living in the area? I think regeneration should be about preserving and reinvigorating both building fabric and community. Yes it’s possible, but it’s hard work and quite expensive.


Thinking of future social housing, do you have ideas or visions of what it could look like, drawing from the past, especially the Smithsons and Goldfinger, and projecting it into the future? c I

do really like the Camden estates, the Alexander Road estate.49 The way that they provided outdoor space for everybody and flexible space within the apartments was really fabulous and I don’t think that’s been heeded. I think the space standards then were very generous. But I think that housing today is much more environmentally responsible. There were many things about those estates that didn’t work, perhaps provision of community facilities. But I think in terms of built form they are amazing. I do feel like a luddite but I think, on the whole, people don’t want to be more than 5 or 6 storeys up and we have to find a way of building fairly densely. (.) I studied architecture and always thought what I wanted to do was build social housing. I graduated in the 80s and went to work for a firm that had done a lot of work in that area. However, when I arrived the only schemes getting funding were small scale conversion jobs. Housing associations were basically buying up Victorian properties and converting them into flats. I spent a lot of my time on sites, often in this part of London, up and down Mile End Road particularly, carving up buildings into flats. Talking to tenants and people saying ‘We don’t want our homes to be identifiable

108 as social housing, we want to blend in seamlessly into the city, to look ordinary’. I gave up being an architect because there wasn’t much designing. What people really wanted was very low key conversions. t

I used to live on the Ocean Estate but the buildings have been demolished. Now we live in Peckham and the exact same buildings are there. c So t

where have all those people gone?

They were re-housed here in the new development. c And

do you think that new community stayed in touch with one another? t

It’s such a tight knit community and I do feel like it has, from what I’ve seen, remained. Families I knew were offered the same number of bedrooms but the homes were much smaller. They didn’t want to leave their flats. They did eventually. The old flats were really spacious and beautiful. j

In our conversation with ASH we talked about how social housing has been represented. The Ocean Estate was branded as a no-go area, it had a very bad image. To what extent do you think the representation of social housing affected its decline? c I

think that’s right. A lot of these estates were branded as no-go places and ghettos and as sink estates. Estates where local authorities were dumping people with drug and alcohol problems, mental health issues. ‘Care in the Community’ contributed to that. I think people had a lot of fear and in some cases quite reasonable anxieties about such issues. I think with a lot of council estates it came down to this feeling that you just weren’t safe. t

Lisa mentioned the Radburn Plan, town planning based on car free communities with a lot of alleyways and paths which were supposed to make a friendly outside space. With the disintegration of the architecture people often did not feel safe anymore walking these narrow lanes.

Robin Hood Gardens → Ocean Estate


c There’s

a mix of different spaces where I live – it has a tiny pocket park, my house is on a little pedestrian street. As you go up that there are two areas where the path broadens out, there’s a space just big enough for little kids to play and then there’s a lot of built in planting. Some of the flats originally had big shared gardens and now the ones on the ground floor have carved off a little bit as private space and there is a communal garden beyond. So, there are all sorts of different sizes of private space, shared space between groups of flats and public space. I moved in when I had my daughter. Having had her as a child going through all those developmental stages, you know that process of gaining independence, it worked really well for the different ranges of space she could go to. t

Ken spoke about the Bankside Open Spaces Trust in which a group of residents got together and arranged a deal with the council because they weren’t happy with how very small open spaces were tended. They received payment to do it themselves. So you’ve got a high number of these spaces, churchyards and small gardens which are actually looked after by this trust, by local residents. We really liked the idea.

110 c Someone on our estate just negotiated that and I did a walk

around the area with him last weekend. He’s got some funding to do some planting of fruit trees and currants, in the communal beds. The idea is that we would then have monthly gardening sessions and hopefully annual jam making sessions. t

Such things are interesting because they can totally change the relationship you have to the space. The balconies here, they keep sticking out. You think of the walkways and streets in the sky and they’re just very restricted to the family unit. I mean you can’t fit a whole family on the balcony, can’t fit two people. c You j


certainly can’t run up and down can you?

No room for a milk float, as at Park Hill.50 c It

does feel as though they are very deliberately sited to minimise the amount you overlook and intrusion on one another. To avoid any eye contact from one to another. (.) You can sit there can’t you? They’ve got a little table. You could have two people sat out. I think that makes a huge difference. To have that amount of space. t

But I did think that when we were inside Robin Hood Gardens you could literally have a street party 51 on your floor. It’s a space where people feel that they can leave things outside. When I went up there, I imagined how I would grow my herbs and transform that space a little bit as well, to the way you like it if you lived there.



Robin Hood Gardens → Ocean Estate



Robin Hood Gardens → Ocean Estate



Robin Hood Gardens → Ocean Estate


116 Letter to our collaborators

1st July 2017 Dear Collaborators

Thank you for walking with us and for sharing your personal and professional knowledge. The five walks took in historic sights, which some people’s homes have now become. Being represented in the popular press through stories and photographs, these homes are the subject of myth and notoriety. However, these are only partial accounts of what went on inside and amongst them, of the thinking behind them, of who created, maintained or neglected them. Ultimately of their preservation or destruction. By countering popular representations of social housing, your thoughts and comments thrust at the heart of the matter. You laid bare the philosophical and psychological implications of recent changes to housing policy and law that put profit before people’s homes.


We draw the following conclusions. Instead of putting profit first, the value of the local community must be placed ahead of land value. Privatisation must be reversed by activating the role of residents in the use of communal spaces. The architect and the planner would better serve the needs of the local community if they account for the future of the social housing they build. This should include the voices of the local community and their role in the management of social housing. That walking is an essential way of reconnecting with land that is increasingly being privatised. A way of reclaiming the right to use that land. That campaigning together can make alternative ways of living a reality, one example is the community land trust model. That social housing is not a luxury, that it is an essential part of the social fabric of the city of London. That demolition of social housing is akin to the demolition of the ideas and ideologies that shaped it. That it means the destruction of a community, not just buildings. We see these conclusions not as an end in themselves but as guides for future conversation and action, available in libraries and archives near the five housing estates. Thank you all for your contributions.Â

Yours sincerely Tamara and James

118 Footnote sources

Walk 1


Formerly the Old Nichol slum, 1900 © Metropolitan Archives 2

A Court in the Old Nichol, 1890 © Metropolitan Archives 3

Dockers and Detectives by Ken Worpole, 1983 © Five Leaves Publications; 2nd edition (2008) 4

Arthur Morrison’s A child of the Jago, 1896 © Oxford University Press 5

The Nichol, early 1890s © Metropolitan Archives 6

Arnold Circus before the bandstand, 1901 © Metropolitan Archives 7

Marie Lloyd funeral procession, 1922 © A. France & Son Funeral Directors 8

Children at Phoenix Open Air School, 1954 © Metropolitan Archives 9

A portrait of Florence Nightingale at 87, 1856 © Wellcome Library 10

Greenway, Newham, 2016 © T. Stoll 11

Cities for People by Jan Gehl, 2010 © Island Press



Park Hill, Sheffield, elevation, 1964 © Reginald Hugo de Burgh Galwey

Goodman’s Fields, 2017 © www.rightmove.co.uk


Getting By by Lisa Mckenzie, 2015 © Policy Press

A study of the East End terraces by Willmott and Young, 1957 © Pelican Books 14

Bankside Open Spaces Trust © Bankside Open Spaces Trust

Walk 2

[02.01.2017] 21


Thamesmead Estate, 2011 © Amanda Vincent-Rous 23

Radburn Plan, Clarence Stein, 1929 © www.dutch genie.net/wordpress/ 2013/04/a-visitor-toradburn [02.01.2017]



Sainsbury’s development proposal for Whitechapel © www.towerhamlets.gov. uk/lgsl/451-500/494_ th_planning_guidance/ consultation_and_engage ment/draft_whitechapel_ vision_spd.aspx

Robin Hood Chase, early 1970s © Edgar Lloyd, Picture the Past

[02.01.2017] 16

The Global City and Expulsions by Saskia Sassen, 2011 and 2014 © Princeton and Harvard University Presses 17

Family and Kinship in East London by Willmott and Young, 1957 © Pelican Books 18

Police arrest a demonstrator during the battle of Cable Street, 1936 © Irish Post/ Topical Press Agency 19

One Commercial Street, 2017 © www.rightmove. co.uk [02.01.2017]


Mural in Kilburn by Signal Project, 2005 © Signal Project

Walk 3


Stephen Willats, Sorting Out Other People’s Lives (Panel 4), 1978 © Stephen Willats and Victoria Miro Gallery 27

Stephen Willats’ Inside An Ocean, displayed at the Ocean Estate, East London during his exhibition Concerning Our Present Way of Living at the Whitechapel Gallery. One of the participants of Inside An Ocean, studying response sheets during its installation at Dame Colet House, 1979 © Stephen Willats archive





Problem display from Inside An Ocean, 1979 © Stephen Willats archive

Design for Balfron Tower, Rowlett Street, Poplar, London: west elevation, 1965 © RIBA

Sarah Wigglesworth sketches © Sarah Wigglesworth Architects www.swarch.co.uk/ research/robin-hoodgardens [02.01.2017]


Installation View of Stephen Willats: Concerning Our Present Way of Living, Whitechapel Gallery, March 4—September 14, 2014 © Patrick Lears



St Clements Hospital, 1960 © Bob Stuart/ Sublime Photography

Trellick Tower, from Golborne Road looking north, 1970 © Metropolitan Archives



Sunday School Children, 1909 © Ragged School Museum

Alternatives to demolition © ASH www.architectsfor socialhousing. wordpress.com


Stephen Willats: Concerning our present way of living, 2014 © The Whitechapel Gallery

SPID Theatre Performance, Kensal Voices and Trellick Tales © SPID Theatre www.spidtheatre.com 38

Walk 5


Walk 4


Stephen Willats Beyond the Plan, 2001 © John Wiley and Sons/ Stephen Willats 34

Gardens in the Sky included garden tours and picnics at the Open Garden Estates at Warwick Road Estate, 2016 © ASH www. opengardenestates.com/ warwick-road-estate 35

Ernö Goldfinger at Balfron Tower © Goldfinger Family Archive/National Trust at 2 Willow Road

Blackwall Reach © Blackwall Reach Host-Brochure 41

Robin Hood Gardens/ Streets in the Sky © Archdaily.com www. archdaily.com/519027/ what-can-be-learntfrom-the-smithsons-newbrutalism-in-2014 42

Alison and Peter Smithson at work © Archdaily.com 43

Children walking the streets in the sky, 1972 © Sandra Lousada/ The Smithson Family Collection


Robin Hood Gardens Re-visions published by the Twentieth Century Society, 2010 © Twentieth-CenturySociety 46 The Economist Building designed by Alison and Peter Smithson © 2010 Anne-Sophie_Ofrim 47

Playground Balfron Tower 1968 © Goldfinger Family Archive/National Trust at 2 Willow Road 48

Festival of Britain designs, 1951 © Chrisp Street On Air www. chrispstreetonair. com/archive/test-post and Peggy Angus Tiles at the Susan Lawrence Primary School in Poplar © The Decorated School Research Network www.thedecoratedschool. blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/ susan-lawrence-primaryschool-poplar.html 49

Alexandra Road Estate, Camden in the 1970s designed by Neave Brown © Martin Charles 50

Milk Float at Park Hill © BBC 51

Street Party © Rex Features

120 Leads to follow Ambrose, P. (1996) I mustn’t laugh too much: housing and health on the Limehouse Fields and Ocean Estates in Stepney Sussex: University of Sussex, Centre for Urban and Regional Research Architects for Social Housing (2016) Gardens in the Sky Available at: www. opengardenestates.com/warwick-roadestate (Accessed: 21 January 2017) Atkinson, C. (2014) Robin Hood Gardens London Manchester: Café Royal Books BBC (2015) A history of social housing Available at: http:// www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14380936 (Accessed: 21 January 2017)

Dutchgenie (2013) A visitor to Radburn Available at: http:// dutchgenie.net/wordpress/2013/04/ a-visitor-to-radburn (Accessed: 2 January 2017) Friends of Arnold Circus (2008) Arnold Circus conservation strategy Available at: https://static1.square space.com/static/54c95537e4b0f8fd139 6a9f5/t/55255478e4b007c5fd37d142/ 1428509915493/Conservation+Strategy (Accessed: 21 January 2017) Gehl, J. (2010) Cities for people Washington: Island Press Goldfinger, E. (1969) Balfron Tower London: East London Papers, Vol. 12, pp.33–42

Brennan, J., Hatherley, O. and Martin, R. (2015) Regeneration! Converstions, Drawings, Archives & Photographs from Robin Hood Gardens London: Silent Grid

Hopkins, O. (2017) Lost Futures: The Disappearing Architecture of PostWar Britain London: Royal Academy of Arts

Camp, A. (2014) Ashington House Statement of Community Involvement London: Alan Camp Architects

Lambert, R. (2014) Planning Statement for Tower Hamlets Homes Ashington East
Final London: Temple

Carter, EJ. and Goldfinger, E. (1945) County of London Plan West Drayton: Penguin

London Tenants Federation, Lees, L., Just Space. and SNAG (2014) Staying put. An Anti-gentrification handbook for council estates in London Available at: https:// southwarknotes.files.wordpress. com/2014/06/staying-put-web-versionlow.pdf (Accessed: 21 January 2017)

Chamont, C. (2005) A Short History of the Ocean Housing Estate in Stepney from 1937 to 2004 London: Ragged School Museum Chrisp Street on Air (2014) Archive Available at: http://www. chrispstreetonair.com/archive/testpost (Accessed: 2 January 2017)

Mckenzie, L. (2015) Getting by: Estates, Class and Culture in Austerity Britain Bristol: Policy Press Morrison, A. (1896) A Child of the Jago London: Methuen & Co


Powers, A. (2010) Robin Hood Gardens Re-visions London: Twentieth Century Society Rahman, L. (2013) Whitechapel Vision Masterplan Supplementary Planning Document London: Tower Hamlets Council

University of Manchester (2015) Concrete Dreams and the Demolition of Robin Hood Gardens Available at: http://projects.socialsciences. manchester.ac.uk/concrete-dreams/ ?p=90 (Accessed: 21 January 2017) Willats, S. (2016) Vision and Reality Devon: Uniform Books

Saskia, S. (2014) Expulsions: brutality and complexity in the global economy Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press

Willats, S. (2001) Beyond the Plan: The transformation of personal space in housing Chichester: John Wiley and Sons

Saskia, S. (1991) The global city: New York, London, Tokyo Oxford: Princeton University Press

Willats, S. (1996) Stephen Willats, Between Buildings and People London: Academy Editions

Swan and Countryside Properties Ltd. (2012) Blackwell Reach Regeneration project Planning Statement London: Tower Hamlets Council

Willats, S. (1979) Stephen Willats, Concerning Our Present Way of Living: Catalogue of an Exhibition Held at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (from 12 January—25 February 1979) and the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (in 1980) London: The Gallery

TH-Federation (2015) Stop the blocks — closed house weekend Available at: http://www.th-federation.org.uk/ events/stop-the-blocks (Accessed: 21 January 2017) The Decorated School (2011) Susan Lawrence Primary School, Poplar Available at: http:// thedecoratedschool.blogspot. co.uk/2011/01/susan-lawrenceprimary-school-poplar.html (Accessed: 2 January 2017) Tower Hamlets (2017) Sainsbury’s development proposal for Whitechapel Available at: http://www. towerhamlets.gov.uk/lgsl/451500/494_th_planning_guidance/ consultation_and_engagement/ draft_whitechapel_vision_spd.aspx (Accessed: 2 January 2017)

Worpole, K. (2000) Here Comes the Sun: Architecture and Public Space in Twentieth Century European Culture London: Reaktion Books Worpole, K. (1983) Dockers and detectives London: Verso Yiakoumaki, N. (2014) Stephen Willats: Concerning Our Present Way of Living London: Whitechapel Gallery Young, M. and Willmot, P. (1957) Family and Kinship in East London London: Routledge & Kegan Paul

122 Walkers We are Tamara Stoll and James Lander, artists and researchers with a shared interest in walking and conversation as working methods. Between us we have lived in three of the five housing estates recorded here. James is a PhD candidate at Chelsea College of Arts, London. Tamara, an LCC alumnus, is a post-graduate photography student at the Academy of Fine Arts, Leipzig, Germany.

Designer Bec Worth is an Australian designer with an interest in the social implications, and digressive possibilities, of walking. She is currently a participant of the MA Graphic Media Design course at the London College of Communication.

123 Recipients Academy of Fine Arts Leipzig Library Adam Hussain, Planning Officer Tower Hamlets Bec Worth Bethnal Green Library Bishopsgate Institute Brenda Daley, resident Ocean Estate British Library Camberwell College of Arts Library Catherine Croft Central St. Martins Library Chelsea College of Arts Library Christopher Chamont, author of A Short History of the Ocean Housing Estate in Stepney from 1937 to 2004 Shamsul Hoque, Vice Chair Collingwood Tenants and Residents Association Donald Smith, Director Chelsea Space Francis Danso, Housing Officer Tower Hamlets Friends of Arnold Circus Geraldine Dening Goldsmiths College Library Idea Store Chrisp Street Idea Store Whitechapel James Dunnett, architect James Lander Jayne Clavering, Brownfield Community Cabin Jessie Brennan, artist and author of Regeneration! Conversations, drawings, archives and photographs from Robin Hood Gardens Jim Fitzpatrick, MP Poplar and Limehouse Jo Melvin, Reader in Fine Art Theory Chelsea College of Art John Biggs, Mayor Tower Hamlets Ken Worpole Lansbury Micro Museum Lynsey Hanley, author of Estates: an intimate history Lisa Mckenzie

London College of Communication Library Mike Althorpe, Research and Development Manager Karakusevic Carson Architects National Art Library V&A Nayia Yiakoumaki Ocean Estate Tenants and Leaseholders Association Owen Hopkins, author of Lost Futures: The Disappearing Architecture of Post-War Britain Peter Ambrose, author of I mustn‘t laugh too much: housing and health on the Limehouse Fields and Ocean Estates in Stepney Ragged School Museum RIBA Library Rushanara Ali, MP Bethnal Green and Bow Simon Elmer Stephen Willats Tamara Stoll Tess Pinto, Conservation Advisor C20 Society Tim O‘Riley, artist Tina Bara, Professor of Fine Art Photography, Academy of Fine Arts Leipzig Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives Whitechapel Gallery Archive Wimbledon College of Art Library


Walking Between Streets in the Sky Edited by James Lander and Tamara Stoll Designed by Bec Worth Published in an edition of 50 by post-script UK publishing 2017 Text © the authors Images © Tamara Stoll With thanks to Darrell Naiker for printing, and binding consultation Printing has been supported by the University of the Arts London: Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon MPhil/PhD Student Initiative Fund The text pages of this book are printed on recycled paper generously donated by Antalis


126 ‘Why am I holding this book in my hands?’, you might ask. You are one of fifty recipients selected to receive this publication. Where you live or where you work relates to the content of the conversations in this book, held on walks between five social housing estates in East London at the beginning of 2017. We thank our collaborators and fellow walkers for their input and hope the content of this publication will provoke further thoughts, conversations and actions.

Profile for Dr James Lander

Walking Between Streets in the Sky [2017]  

Lander, J. and Stoll, T. [2017], Walking Between Streets in the Sky. London: post-script UK publishing. In 2017, Tamara Stoll and James Land...

Walking Between Streets in the Sky [2017]  

Lander, J. and Stoll, T. [2017], Walking Between Streets in the Sky. London: post-script UK publishing. In 2017, Tamara Stoll and James Land...


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