23. Ossulston Estate 1927-31 (G. Topham Forrest) London

Two details set this project apart from estates like the Bourne, Caledonian and Peabody: first is the monumental space-making which sets off the estate precinct from the rest of the city in a manner not seen before; second are the stoop entry ways in parts of the estate. The archways, courts and gallery entrances had all been done before but the overall language is distinctive enough to affect the way in which inhabitants can identify with its spaces. For example the galleries are treated as spaces that are well within the fabric of the building. This is accentuated by the difference in materials and detailing between the outer layer in inner (brick) layer. There is a grandeur and heroicism that celebrates every transition and threshold, whether it’s from the street to court or stair to home. This is inherited from the Karl Marx Hof which the architect Topham Forrest had visited.

Currently many of the archways are gated adding a distinct boundary to what was a marked but permeable threshold between the city and estate territory. A couple of the archways have not been gated and several of the gated ones are left open, at least during the daytime. The courts offer a combination of parking, play spaces and greens. Despite the monumentality which aimed to make the estate and its territory distinct from its surroundings, the line of shops, cafe/pub street seating and trees along Chalton Street play down the presence of the estate. This current condition makes for an interesting juxtaposition between the quiet interior courts and buzz of street-life just beyond. The planning and design of the estate is worth examining in more detail. It shares the monumental, set piece approach of the Bourne Estate, which also utilises large archways to bridge the city-at-large with its urban interior. The monumentality of the archways in both projects serves to make clear the shift from the city into a precinct but are also of a scale that makes the spatial connection fluid. The Ossulston Estate offers a different relationship with the city through the ‘serpentine’ planning strategy. Whereas the Bourne Estate makes a clear distinction between inside the estate and outside, the Ossulston Estate provides blurrier or overlapping territories at some of its edges. This makes its spatial relationship to the city more complex and allow for greater range for how inhabitants interpret and construct the identity of its spaces in relation to the city.

There is an interesting detail noted in the plan below, calling out the bow of the gallery as a pram ‘parking’ area. This suggests that the galleries were seen as extensions of the home rather than purely circulation elements.

Schema

  • street (city) ⇒ gate (boundary) ⇒ pass under archway (threshold) ⇒ cross interior court (estate territory) ⇒ enter stair hall (block boundary) ⇒ stair (ascend) ⇒ gallery ⇒ door (variable number)

Unit identity

  • Weak; different blocks have different expressions and so block or wing identity is strong.

Digimap Ossulston

  • Black & white images courtesy of the London Metropolitan Archive (https://collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk).
  • Street View and aerial images courtesy of Google Maps.
  • Map courtesy of OS Digimap.

Bibliography

Pepper, Simon. “Ossulston Street: Early LCC Experiments in High-Rise Housing, 1925–29.” The London Journal 7, no. 1 (May 1, 1981): 45–64.
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See also:

Previous Entry 22. Queen Alexandra Mansions

Next Entry 24. Isokon Building/Lawn Road Flats

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