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Spa Green, London

One of the first examples of Modernist Architecture in social housing, the estate features 126 flats, each spanning the entire width of a block.

Keeling House drawings

An early experiment in the “cluster block” housing, the innovative form has 4 16-storey blocks and 1 freestanding service tower.

Keeling House, London

“[Keeling house was] a protest against treating the human being as a statistical pawn."

Alexandra Road Estate, London

The high-density, low-rise housing proposed a ‘social street’ for this awkward site alongside a railway line.

Byker Estate, Newcastle

The architect set up his office on site, and created an ambitious example of participatory design.

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News 17 Jan 2019

Making a Home: V&A London’s newest exhibition explores if mindful architecture can solve today’s ongoing housing crisis

As population increases across the globe, the housing crisis is one among the many consequences we are currently struggling with. For over a century, housing has been one of UK’s most urgent crises. This winter, V&A in collaboration with RIBA curated a display of six innovative projects from their collections – each demonstrating a unique experiment in social housing design. This article is part 1 of a 2-part feature on the display. While this segment explores the exhibition itself, the next goes behind-the-scenes and speaks to the curators.

Housing Secretary of the United Kingdom, James Brokenshire, told The Big Issue in May that dealing with the housing crisis is the biggest challenge he has to face in his new role. He said: “The challenge is how to get things built and how to build the affordable homes that the country desperately needs. I have to continue to listen to prepare new ideas.” In a situation like this, how can architecture help?

To answer that question, curators Shumi Bose and Justine Sambrook from RIBA along with Rory Hyde and Ella Kilgallon from V&A, assembled these 6 projects from RIBA and V&A's collections that pioneered social housing in the past.

Spa Green, London

Built in London by Berthold Lubetkin and Tecton for the Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury, in 1949. One of the first examples of Modernist Architecture in social housing, the estate features 126 flats, each spanning the entire width of a block, therefore providing sunlight and air on each side. For it’s time, it was a generous housing conceived on the principles of health and hygiene.

Spa Green, London

One of the first examples of Modernist Architecture in social housing, the estate features 126 flats, each spanning the entire width of a block.

Keeling House, London

Built in London by Denys Lasdun of Fry, Drew, Drake and Lasdun for Bethnal Green Metropolitan Borough Council, in 1959. An early experiment in the “cluster block” housing, the innovative form has 4 16-storey blocks and 1 freestanding service tower. The linked blocks were designed to balance the existing community of the street with a sense of seclusion.

Keeling House drawings

An early experiment in the “cluster block” housing, the innovative form has 4 16-storey blocks and 1 freestanding service tower.

“It sought to re-establish, irrespective of size, the human scale, the sense of place, the sense of identity and, above all, privacy.”

As Deny Lasdun once said “[Keeling house was] a protest against treating the human being as a statistical pawn… [it] sought to re-establish, irrespective of size, the human scale, the sense of place, the sense of identity and, above all, privacy.”

Keeling House, London

“[Keeling house was] a protest against treating the human being as a statistical pawn."

Alexandra Road Estate, London

Built in London by Neave Brown of the Camden Council Architects’ Department, in 1978. The high-density, low-rise housing was built to be the opposite of high-rise residential towers and instead proposed a ‘social street’ for this awkward site alongside a railway line. This shared street encourages a sense of neighbourliness and belonging. “Everything on Alexandra Road is […] a notion of continuous, mutually enhancing function. It sounds pretentious but it’s just the idea of making things work together,” says Neave Brown.

Alexandra Road Estate, London

The high-density, low-rise housing proposed a ‘social street’ for this awkward site alongside a railway line.

Byker Estate, Newcastle

Built in 1982, by Ralph Erskine for Newcastle City Council. “People wanted their corner shops, pubs, laundries… They wanted functional spaces that were also places for meeting friends and neighbours, places for ‘a good laugh’ as well as for practical use,” Ralph says. The architect set up his office on site, and created an ambitious example of participatory design, where residents could drop in to examine the plans and discuss the project. The estate replaced a neighbourhood of terraces, which were demolished and replaced in stages to enable neighbours and families to be re-housed together.

Byker Estate, Newcastle

The architect set up his office on site, and created an ambitious example of participatory design.

“People wanted functional spaces that were also places for meeting friends and neighbours, places for ‘a good laugh’ as well as for practical use.”

Primary Support Structure and Housing Assembly Kits (PSSHAK), London

Built in 1979 in London by Nabeel Hamdi and Nicholas Wilkinson of the Greater London Council Architects’ Department. What began as a student project at the Architectural Association in the late 1960s, developed to become a flexible, co-design project with the occupants. Each block was a shell that could be subdivided to contain different combinations of individual dwellings; and each tenant was invited to design their layout with help from the architects and an instruction manual.

Lion Green Road, London

Designed by by Mary Duggan Architects for Brick By Brick in 2017. The design represents a new direction in council-led social housings. It imagines the residential blocks as sculptural pavilions within a natural landscape – offering access to views, air and light. Each block has a mixed tenure of private and social residents with the landscape given over to communal activities. The project blurs the boundaries between private residence, shared space and publicly accessible parkland.

As obvious, each of these projects developed and evolved new forms of social housing, pertaining to the resources, political and socio-economic climate of the time. They help us understand the effects of architecture rooted in social environment and led by the state council. Each example displays a different way of making a home, for all.

The exhibition is on at the V&A, London till 30 June 2019. To know why these were the projects chosen, check out what the curators have to say about the exhibition here.