35b. Alton East 1952-55 (Rosemary Stjernstedt for the LCC) London

There is no great drama to the entries at Alton East but they do allow for connections between inside and outside through the extensive glazing on the ground floor lobby and fire stairs. The glazed stair as joint or reveal was a recurrent theme in point blocks. Like The Lawn, the Alton point blocks sit in a suburban green setting. At ground level entry is via a void underneath the tower leading into a fairly transparent lobby. In contrast to the internalised core at The Lawn, here the lobbies at each floor have visual connections out to the exterior through the glazed fire stair partitions. This allows for the possibility of understanding the elevated level of ones home visually – you can view out and see how high you are before entering your flat. Additionally, though Alton East shares a similar suburban context with The Lawn, the towers and their entries are well related to the roads and footpaths. There is an almost urban feeling to the zones immediately outside the entries. A comparison between The Lawn and Alton East demonstrates that the arrival configuration taken at its most abstract – movement across open space to a lift lobby ascending to an upper floor lobby giving access to a flat – is not sufficient to guarantee a better or worse result. The difference here is down to smaller spatial details – transparency of the lobby, the more fluid movement from exterior into interior, the connection with the exterior context at upper levels. The spaces of arrival, and its associated routine, are more considered and developed at Alton East – testament to that are the decorative tiles that adorn each entry way and stairwell. And though many towers and slabs suffered from the pared back approach of The Lawn, many post-war housing projects of this type employed artworks to ennoble the spaces of arrival.

  • Exterior black & white image, unknown source
  • Three black & white images courtesy of the London Metropolitan Archive (https://collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk)
  • Streeview images courtesy of Google Maps
  • Map courtesy of OS Digimap

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35a. The Lawn 1950 (Frederick Gibberd) Harlow

The Lawn is generally acknowledged to be the first tower block in Britain. While the design is often admired it sets the template for much that is wrong with tower blocks from the perspective of an entry sequence. The nondescript arrival could be explained, and perhaps forgiven, due to its suburban context and assumption that arrival is by car. However, for the housing type that most disconnects dwellings from its surroundings, the entry, with its dinky canopy, does nothing to create a suitable transition or bring dignity to the ritual of arrival. Most contemporary photographs show cars partially parked on the pedestrian path leading to the entry. The lobby and core are small and without particular merit. This is somewhat acceptable given the quiet, suburban context, but the type has been rarely adapted for inner city use where the transitions and thresholds are particularly important. In many later tower blocks the lack of considered routes from the edge of the site to entry lobbies, themselves too frequently treated as no more than an airlock, contributes to the alienating experience of movement and experiences of daily routines in point blocks. And despite its more ‘luxurious’ location, the line of bins adjacent to the entry illustrates a recurrent problem – the association of arrival with rubbish.

Ironically, the low block accompanying the tower has pronounced entry with a void linking the parking forecourt with the green beyond. The void also provides access to the stair core which leads to gallery access. 

Schema

  • bus stop (city) ⇒ footpath (city) ⇒ block path (unclear territory; partially blocked by parked cars) ⇒ canopy (threshold) ⇒ door (boundary) ⇒ stair/lift lobby ⇒ lift (waiting and ascending) ⇒ lobby ⇒ door (one of four)
  • arrival by car picks up the trajectory above from the block path

Unit identity

  • Fair: the number of units and their limits are somewhat legible in the composition of the facades; however, there is very little opportunity for individualization and there are too many levels to be able to quickly identify one’s dwelling.
  • Sepia image source unknown
  • Black and white from http://www.gibberd.com
  • Street View courtesy of Google Maps
  • Map courtesy of OS Digimap

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Dorset Estate 1957 (Skinner, Bailey & Lubetkin) London

The Dorset Estate continues the formal approach to layouts started at Priory Green. The plan introduces the ‘Y’ block combined with shorter slab blocks while heightening the sense of free-floating blocks in space. The connections to the surrounding context and street layout is rather abstract and geometrical, that is, mostly evident in plan. But as with Lubetkin’s other estates the lobbies and stairs provide a sense of excitement and dignity. The stairs are more sculptural and baroque than before but the vertical cores are fairly standard. The approach to the buildings from the surrounding city is indistinct. As a transition from the city to the front door this is perhaps Lubetkin’s weakest project featuring too many of the ambiguous and poorly defined exterior spaces typical of slab and point block planning. Access to flats is from open air galleries. The main feature of this estate is that the galleries are no longer expressed on the exterior but treated as part of the volume of the building; they are treated like interior spaces and provide a sense of circulating within the mass of the block.

Sivill House, a point block, was added to the estate in 1962.

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Priory Green Estate 1957 (Berthold Lubetkin & Tecton, Skinner & Bailey) London

The Priory Green Estate, now Priory Heights, is more formally laid out than Spa Green Estate but with more deliberate planning of the spaces between blocks. It is at the edges that the setbacks from the street produce indistinct territories that while intending to let the space of the city flow through the site instead create a distancing effect. In many estates planned along these lines this space tends to heighten the sense of difference between the type of space and architecture and the rest of the city, increasing the sense of otherness and disconnection from the continuous fabric of the city. As with most of Lubetkin’s estates there is care in the lobbies and stairs and originally the estate had formalised gateways that marked the transition from street to estate precinct. These appear to have been entirely erased and the estate is now caged by fences that ring the buildings. The entries are difficult to spot for the uninitiated. This gating, common in council estate renovations, has made the in-between space even worse than it was before giving the estate a defensive and greater sense of retreat from the city. It is no longer possible to shortcut through the estate further isolation the fluid spaces in between the blocks from its surrounding cityscape.

There are four main types of circulation cores: fairly standard vertical cores are found in Kendal and Redington Houses; Foliot, Tomay, Paveley & Grendon Houses have a single stair with a canted vertical wall creating a distinct space of entry and circulation; Wynford House has a sculptural, curved stair that rises at the intersections of the three wings; finally Calshot House has a standard stair leading to galleries.

Digimap Priory Green

  • Top two black & white images from Art & Architecture Courtauld Institute Library
  • Remaining four black & white images from Architecture.com
  • Two views downward of stair from Ben Austwick Twitter
  • Colour image of door and stair from from Adam Khan Architects
  • Following colour images from Modernistpilgrimage.com
  • Street Views courtesy of Google Maps
  • Black & white stair tower view from Simon Phipps
  • Bottom right colour image from Steve Cadman Flickr account
  • Site plan courtesy of OS Digimap

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34. Spa Green Estate 1950 (Berthold Lubetkin and Tecton) London

The urban planning of this estate, along with many of Lubetkin’s other estates, is based on the modernist slab-in-free-space model and generally does not contribute positively to the relationship between its individual dwellings and the city. Although estates like Churchill Gardens and Golden Lane utilise slab blocks set back from the street, the space between buildings is generally composed and designed in an integrated and specific relationship to the blocks. In Spa Green we have an early example of the more common abstract or undefined space that acts like a buffer and separator between the city and the housing (“…the buildings are placed in any old direction” – Nikolaus Pevsner). This is still handled better at Spa Green than most estates but it is at the level of the building that the estate contributes positively to the evolution of arrival sequences. In all of Lubetkin’s designs there is an interest in the transition into the building and, generally, up and through them. At Spa Green this is carried out with a variety entry types with each block having a distinct entry and lobby arrangement even thought two blocks are identical in plan (mirrored arrangement). Wells House has perhaps the most elaborate entry – a pair of ramps within a projecting box volume on the court side and a sculptural canopy with integrated planters and benches on the park side. The lobby and vertical circulation are otherwise standard. It’s mirror copy, Tunbridge House has a subdued entry facing the main road leading to  three stair cores. The gently serpentine Sadler House originally had an open stair within the middle of the block. This is now obscured and gated by a lift tower added in 1987.

Schema

  • Sadler House: street (city) ⇒ enter site territory (various entry points) ⇒ cross site ⇒ lift/stair lobby (boundary – originally open) ⇒ stair/lift (ascend) ⇒ gallery ⇒ door (1 of 8 per floor)
  • Wells House: street (city) ⇒ enter site territory (various entry points) ⇒ cross site ⇒ enter projecting volume (threshold) ⇒ ramp or steps to plinth level ⇒ enter stair hall ⇒ stair (ascend) ⇒ lobby ⇒ door
  • Tunbridge House: street (city) ⇒ enter site territory (various entry points) ⇒ cross site ⇒ steps (ascend) ⇒ enter void under block (threshold) ⇒ gate (added boundary) ⇒ stair lobby ⇒ stair (ascend) ⇒ door

Unit identity

  • The use of the alternating rhythm of balconies allows for a clear reading of unit boundaries, however, on the taller blocks this technique makes it simultaneously difficult to identify specific units in relation to entry sequence.

Digimap Spa Green

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Previous Entry 33. Churchill Gardens

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Golden Lane Estate 1958-62 (Chamberlin Powell and Bon) London

Golden Lane, like Churchill Gardens, has a variety of different entry sequences. At Golden Lane there is a more conscious attempt to incorporate different housing types (slab, tower, maisonettes, flats, etc.). Part of the entry sequence to most blocks is dependent on the composition of the whole; for example, the framing of the approach to Great Arthur House from Goswell Road. In addition many sequences include complex routes and thresholds leading from the street through interior courtyard territories. Like the Bourne Estate, entry sequences include movement from the space of the city into a distinct and separate precinct. At Golden Lane, however, there is a greater fluctuation in the scale of spaces traversed. This exposes some of the limitations of Churchill Gardens which generally has similarly scaled spaces between blocks and more abrupt transitions from exterior spaces into vertical circulation cores. In this sense Churchill Gardens has a somewhat traditional street-block pattern in terms of the way inhabitants move from the urban realm into the space of a residential block (typologically different, but similar in relationship to a Haussmanian block to its Parisian street). The spaces of Golden Lane are more distinctly different and separate from the surrounding street-block pattern and produces very particular internal exterior territories (which are not all successful to the same extent). 

Crescent House contains a unique access gallery which runs a narrow ‘court’. Because this part of Crescent House is raised off the ground, the court does not touch the ground, and together with the secured vertical access ‘pods’ makes the galleries secure. This has led to energetic use of the gallery spaces as evidenced by Lucy Johnston’s photographs. Elsewhere, all the roughly east-west oriented blocks employ paired entries, both on the ground and off galleries, that are marked by vertical brick piers (see last Street View image below). And though not strictly an arrival sequence in terms of relating to a unit’s front door, the resolution of the access to the lawns and courts in front of these same blocks demonstrate an interest in creating shared spaces and links between neighbouring units. This theme runs throughout the estate, developed and executed in a variety of ways.

Schema

  • varies; some gallery access (around a shallow court); straightforward stair cores; opening relating perimeter streets to interior courts.

Unit identity

  • Generally good; expressed cross walls, setbacks, material changes and window patterns allow units to be easily identifiable in most blocks.

Digimap Golden Lane 2

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33. Churchill Gardens Estate 1946-62 (Powell & Moya) London

There are too many building types and sequence types to get into specifics about this project. The main contribution is variety – contrast to Park Hill Sheffield – and the effort put into the entry for each type. There is close attention paid to circulation and arrival spaces throughout the estate with few bad examples. Many of the vertical circulation spaces are housed in detached ‘towers’. This is the most inventive contribution provided by this example, though a less emphatic version of this appears in Kent House (1935). These ‘towers’ are emphasised in this estate and prefigures the more detached (spatially and conceptually) circulation elements of Lasdun’s cluster blocks and Goldfinger’s Trellick and Balfron Towers. When not detached vertical circulation elements act as a hinge between blocks (e.g. Lowther House). Even where the employment of stairs is there for fire egress more than day-to-day use they are highlighted as significant symbolic elements within the scheme. Some of the entries also prefigure Lubetkin’s use of sculptural canopies to mark entries into blocks. The level of inventiveness across such a large estate is rare. This could be due to the length of the build, taking 16 years, and the changes to economic and programmatic demands over this period. The result avoids the common mechanical sterility and anonymity of large estates.

Chronology note: This project is listed based on start of construction rather than completion.

Schema

  • various; detached vertical circulation towers, liberal use of glazing to maintain transparency and visual connection to streets; large canopies to mark entries; many entries open to paths and streets; gallery access used in most blocks (varying lengths)

Unit identity

  • Generally weak; repeated structural systems and scale of the estate likely prevented modelling and expression of individual units. Identity of individual blocks and their entries is strong.

Screenshot Housing Entry

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Previous Entry 32. Palace Gate

Next Entry 34. Spa Green

32. Palace Gate 1939 (Wells Coates) London

The gallery access in this block is integrated into the volume of the façade. There are two parallel routes; an interior corridor and an open gallery visible on the façade. This double parallel access system was first used in Ginzburg’s Narkomfin building from 1932 (Moscow). The lift lobby provides direct access to the corridor but not the gallery (you have to use a door to access it). There are only three galleries due to the complex 2-storey-flat section. A formal lobby sits under the projected block of one bedroom units. The flats in the middle of the long block (2 of 8 per floor) can also be accessed from the lower level. The projecting one-bedroom units are access by going around and behind the lift and going up or down a half-level. These stairs are glazed and provide a visual connection to the exterior. It’s a complex setup with potential for variable individual routines but without much sense of collectivity.

Schemas

  • street (city) ⇒ gap in wall (threshold) ⇒ car access ⇒ door (boundary) ⇒ lobby (wait) ⇒ lift (ascend) ⇒ landing ⇒ corridor ⇒ door (8 per floor)
  • street (city) ⇒ gap in wall (threshold) ⇒ car access ⇒ door (boundary) ⇒ lobby (wait) ⇒ lift (ascend) ⇒ landing ⇒ door (boundary) ⇒ gallery ⇒ door (boundary) ⇒ corridor ⇒ door (8 per floor)
  • street (city) ⇒ gap in wall (threshold) ⇒ car access ⇒ door (boundary) ⇒ lobby (wait) ⇒ lift (ascend) ⇒ landing ⇒ stair to one bedroom flats (ascend or descend along glazed exterior wall) ⇒ door

Unit identity

  • Weak; the emphasis is on the block as a whole.

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31. Henry Prince Estate 1938 (LCC) London

This type is loosely related to the monumental urban set pieces like Ossulston, Gerrard Gardens and Quarry Hill. The difference here is the integration of vehicular access through the monumental archways. Though the footpaths are narrow they are deliberately integrated into the scheme and make for both clear connection and separation between the ‘squares’. The entries into the blocks themselves are not noteworthy but are well placed and marked. The architectural resolution of these seem to have been modified since the original construction.

Schema

  • street (city) ⇒ courtyard (crossing) ⇒ path ⇒ door (boundary) ⇒ lobby ⇒ stair (ascend) ⇒ lobby ⇒ door (boundary)

Unit Identity

  • Individual units are not marked but there is general clarity concerning the relationship of entries to particular wings. Despite the regularity identification is possible with squares, blocks and wings.

Digimap Henry Prince

  • Street View images courtesy of Google Maps.
  • Aerial image courtesy of Google Earth.
  • Map courtesy of OS Digimap.

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Ladbroke Grove Flats 1938 (Maxwell Fry) London

This block resolves the vehicular access problem at Isokon by providing separate access to lower level garages. Residents enter via a separate path into a stair and lift lobby. The canopy, steps and projecting doors provide an articulated threshold into the lobby. The stair hall is glazed facing the galleries providing a visual link between the circulation spaces. This is one of the better solutions to the challenge of providing vehicular and pedestrian access along the same side of a slab.

Schema

  • street (city) ⇒ path (adjacent to neighbouring building’s driveway) ⇒ steps (threshold) ⇒ door under canopy (boundary) ⇒ stair/lift lobby (waiting) ⇒ lift (ascend) ⇒ upper floor lobby (with view of gallery) ⇒ door (boundary) ⇒ gallery (outside) ⇒ door to gallery (boundary) ⇒ gallery ⇒ door (1 of 3)

Unit identity

  • Fair; the overall scale makes each dwelling’s position within the building easily identifiable.

 

Digimap Ladbroke Grove

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