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La Ville Radieuse a

La Ville Sombre From Corbusier’s Vision to Southwark Council’s Reality


La Ville Radieuse

Unite d’Habitation - Marseilles

In the 1930’s modernist architects, most notably Le Corbusier, set out a vision for the housing strategy of the future. They imagined communities living in large apartment blocks styled in the fashion of grand ocean liners and set amid open parkland. Though heavily criticised as “brutalist” the demand for housing after the first world war led to initial constructions of which the first and most famous is the Unite d’Habitation in Marseilles. This is now a listed building and contains sought after apartments as well as hotel accomodation. Further examples are to be found in Berlin and Firminy. These apparent early successes were seized upon by developers in the 1960’s and 70’s as a way of clearing the Victorian slums and war damaged housing they were still struggling to replace. In many cases they also adopted the concept of aerial walkways to segregate people from traffic. Problems with this approach include the absence of any way of developing a sense of community such as was to be found in the streets these concrete blocks replaced. The open spaces were devoid of any obvious social function and were ignored at best or vandalised at worst. , The walkways in the sky became racetracks for kids on bikes and convenient escape routes for muggers. The fundamental flaws in the planners’ strategies were overlooked or ignored and these issues are only now beginning to be dealt with. The Heygate Estate in South London is a typical example of the urban blight and decay that has resulted.


Corbusier based his design on the ocean liner. In Roehampton the common service facilities on the roofs are designed to resemble an ocean liner’s superstructure.


Southwark Borough Council’s design for the Heygate Estate bears a closer resemblance is to a battered container ship.


Heygate Development Brochure - 1969


Heygate Reality - 2009


Heygate Development Brochure - 1969


Heygate Reality - 2009


“Some areas of asphalt should be located as ‘lay-bys’ on the pedestrian route and provided with canopies and benches for children to play in wet weather and for people to talk to one another, especially women with children in prams going to and from the shops” Heygate Development Planning Brief - 1969


The development should incorporate “A parade of six shops, one to be a bakery with a bakehouse attached, to replace approximately ninety existing ones.� Heygate Development Planning Brief - 1969


“There is hardly a trace of vandalism on the estate. The few slogans and names that are drawn on the walls have been thoughtfully done in less bold colours.� South London Press, October 1973


A single household with its own garden is in no doubt of its right to control its garden space, and because this right is recognised by the community at large, it has the confidence to challenge people who intrude upon it. In this non-autonomous atmosphere intrusions are likely to be few.� - Alice Coleman, Utopia on Trial


Heygate Tenants and Residents Association Meeting Room


In 1997, Tony Blair made one of his first speeches as Prime Minister on the adjacent Aylesbury Estate promising �there will be no forgotten people in the Britain I want to build�.


Have these promises been forgotten as well as the people?


The 21st Century Vision

Strata Tower - 1 Bedroom, 1 Bathroom, 1 Reception - ÂŁ850,000


Only 12 new flats (shown here) have been built specifically for Heygate residents of the projected 1,000 plus. The vast majority of the former Heygate community are now being spread across the borough and beyond, accomodated in existing council property. Most new development is for private purchase or rental and is described as an “investment opportunity�. 10% of residents are still resisting a move and the latest deadline for demolition to start was passed in September 2009.


Southwark Council plans for “a dramatically improved physical environment with tree lined streets, high quality open spaces and a largely traffic free environment. Local People will also enjoy access to more local jobs and training opportunities, and new cultural and leisure facilities such as a cinema and swimming pool.” “Moving from one slum one hardly wants to start up another.” Kitty Clunn, Southwark Housing Committee October 1973 “Will it work this time? I hope so.” Martin Smith, Southwark Regeneration Director October 2008



La Ville Radieuse a La Ville Sombre