Golden Lane Estate
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The idea to build a residential site to the north of the Cripplegate area, followed devastation of much of the City of London in The Blitz during World War II. Following almost complete destruction in the Blitz, only around 500 people remained in the City in 1950, a mere 50 of whom lived in Cripplegate. The brief was to provide council housing at subsidised rents for the many people who serviced the offices in the City, particularly caretakers, secretaries and police officers, as part of the recovery strategy for the City. There was an emphasis on single people and couples, rather than families.
The site, just north of the historic quarter of Aldersgate, had previously been occupied by small Victorian industries and businesses. Some of the basements of the bombed buildings were retained as sunken areas of the landscaping.It was designed by architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, who later designed the adjacent, Barbican Estate.
The estate was commissioned and paid for by the City of London but constructed in the immediately adjacent Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury, later forming part of the London Borough of Islington; it was transferred to the City of London in the 1990s, following boundary changes lobbied for by residents. However, it is distinguished from the bulk of the City of London, which is today the largely non-residential European financial services capital. The Estate has more in common socially and economically with the Clerkenwell creative district surrounding it, especially in view of the large number of designers and architects now in residence. The first phase of the estate was officially opened in 1957. The estate was enlarged to the West, with three buildings added later: Cullum Welch House and Hatfield House and Crescent House, this last completed in 1962.
The Golden Lane Competition
The competition for designs was announced in 1951, and at a time when post WW II recovery was still slow, the opportunity to design such an estate attracted a lot of interest among architects. The competition and entries to it were covered widely in the architectural and popular press. Golden Lane Estate is architecturally important as the first work of the partnership formed when Geoffry Powell won the competition to build the estate on 26 February 1952. The three partners-to-be of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon were all lecturers in architecture Kingston School of Art and had entered into an agreement that if any one of them won, they would share the commission. The competition was assessed by Donald McMorran, who also designed (in conservative style) housing for the Corporation of London. Alison and Peter Smithson were among the dozens of entrants to the competition, and though not even runners-up in the competition they publicised their unsuccessful entry energetically in the press.
Architecture of the Estate
The maisonette blocks are faced with panels in primary colours (red & blue on maisonette blocks and yellow on the tower block). There is less use of unfaced concrete than in the Barbican. However, some of the concrete surfaces which are today painted were originally unpainted as they suffered early on from staining and streaking from iron pyrites in the aggregate.
Inside, most maisonettes display open tread terrazzo staircases projecting from the party walls as a cantilever. This, and the fact that the bedrooms are suspended, structurally speaking, without supports over the living rooms gives very compact planning with a surprisingly spacious feel to small flats, in spite of the fact thay they were built under severe Government building restrictions of the post WW II years. The engineer was Felix Samuely. Some maisonettes retain their hour-glass shaped hot-water radiators, visible in windows. Crescent House, the last of the blocks to be completed in 1962, runs along Goswell Road and shows a tougher aesthetic that the architects were developing at the adjacent Barbican scheme, the early phases of which were by then on site.
The architects kept to their brief of providing the high density within the 7 acres (28,000 m2) available. The visual anchor of the design is the tower block of one-bedroomed flats, Great Arthur House, which provides a vertical emphasis at the centre of the development and, at 16 storeys, was on completion briefly the tallest residential building in Britain.
The three-level roof garden of Great Arthur House is one of the finest public architectural spaces of 1950s British architecture. It has fabulous views of St Pauls Cathedral, the Barbican and over North London. It extends to three stories high, making a virtue out of the lift winding gear and tank housing. It makes the most of the small footprint of this tower block. Pergolas and carefully integrated window cleaning equipment are treated for their sculptural qualities. An ornamental pool with stepping stones reflects on spring and Autumn morning ripples from the water to the underside of the extravagant curved concrete canopy. It was originally open to all residents of the estate as recreational space - which is at a premium on this dense urban site. The roof garden sadly been closed for more than a decade for health and safety reasons.
A Model for Social Housing & Urban Living
When completed the estate attracted even more publicity than the architectural competition as a symbol of post-war recovery. It was widely photographed and written about. Today the estate is home to approximately 1,500 people living in 559 one, two, three or four room units. There are 385 single storey flats and 174 maisonettes. More than half of the flats have been sold on long leases under the Right to buy scheme provisions brought in by the Thatcher government, and have proved attractive to design-conscious buyers. The rental flats continue as council housing with preference given to City of London workers, let at affordable rents. Applications for rented housing units can be made to the City of London. As a result the Golden Lane Estate is more balanced socially than the adjacent Barbican, which was conceived from the beginning as luxury housing. The Barbican is a strongly defended suburb, aloof from the street and elevated on a podium. The Golden Lane Estate is notably permeable, with pedestrian routes crossing through it and a more friendly, accessible architecture.
On the western edge of the estate is a line of shops, and there are social facilities nominally open to all residents, a public swimming pool and gym, police office, estate office, nursery, pub and tennis courts (originally bowling green) - the whole combining to make an urban microcosm. A few of these facilities survive in their original uses, preserving the values that lay behind the creation of the estate. Once common in post-WW II local authority planning and housing, this idealism, commitment to quality design and a holistic vision of urban living have in many cases been abandoned by municipalities.
Both the earlier work and that at Crescent House is clearly influenced by the work of Le Corbusier, an influence the architects were happy to acknowledge. Crescent House displays affinities with his Maisons Jaoul at Neuilly-sur-Seine whilst the maisonettes, with their open plan stairs and double height stair spaces, are reminiscent of those at his Unité d'Habitation in Marseilles and elsewhere. The idea of making the estate an urban microcosm is itself a strand of Le Corbusier's thinking, at the Unités and elsewhere. The detailing and finishes of the Golden Lane Estate are, however, more resolved and better designed than many in Le Corbusier's work.
Listed Building Status
The Estate comprises Listed buildings of Special architectural interest, at Grade II (two) since 1997 except for Crescent House which is Listed at Grade II* (two star) in view of its importance in post-war residential architecture. The estate is largely intact, though there has been steady erosion of design detail, especially over the last decade. In 2006/2007, to address this Listed Building Management Guidelines were developed with Avanti Architects, a panel or residents and other stakeholders for the maintenance of the estate, to ensure its important characteristics are preserved. Though Listing restricts owner's freedom to change their flats, under pain of criminal prosecution, Listing has in fact increased the value of the flats. There is also increased pressure on the City of London as freehold owners to maintain the estate better than in the recent past.
- Golden Lane Estate - Listed Building Guidelines - Corporation of London - July 2006 (accessed: 9 October 2006). (This document is in the public domain)
Nearby rail and Tube
- City of London: Golden Lane Estate
- Golden Lane Community Association and Club
- Golden Lane Social Network Website, for residents, visitors and community