I realise this might be a slightly odd title for a blog about council housing.
I've called this blog 'Love London council housing' because as I walk around this city I very often admire the design and thought that has gone into its social housing. I enjoy looking at these buildings, I enjoy visiting them, and I lived in one for some time during university and enjoyed that too.
I think a lot of architects working on these projects, on very limited budgets and to the demands of the councils (who post WWII wanted high volumes built cheaply and quickly) put a lot of thought into their designs and making them work for the necessary cost and benefit of communities.
But I feel like I've come to hear the other side of the argument.
Tonight I went to a talk, organised by Local History Library & Archives and Bow Arts Trust, as part of their 14th Floor project (a fantastic venture - see their blog here).
There was a panel of three speakers - Marcel Baettig, founder of the Bow Arts Trust (an artists' collective - some of whom inhabit the top floors of the Balfron Tower and who kindly opened up one of their flats for Open House), a representative from Tower Hamlets Community Housing and Lynsey Hanley, author of the very interesting book Estates (which you can buy here - or borrow from your local library like I did).
I read Lynsey's intimate and thoughtful book before attending the talk. I found her story inspiring - she grew up on the edge of 'the Wood', an estate on the periphery of Birmingham - and think she really gets to grips with redefining what it means to both live in an estate and how they are perceived by outsiders. Listening to her speak, it is clear that she cares deeply about social housing, how it is used, its effects on residents and a sense of equality that everyone should have a 'decent standard' home to live in. Most of all, she wants councils to learn from mistakes made in the past, ensuring future housing stock is sustainable and, ultimately, desirable.
What I found interesting, and what caused me to ask think about my reasons for taking an interest in London's council housing, is that she believes vehemently that buildings like the Balfron Tower never fell into this category.
Following a comment from the audience Lynsey said she disagreed that the Balfron Tower is 'visually arresting' but rather that it's somewhere where 'people were experimented on'. She went on to say 'professional people don't live in buildings that look like this'.
I believe that the Balfron Tower, like the Trellick Tower and Keeling House among others, are landmarks and should be preserved for the originality that they bring to the city's housing stock. And I know of plenty of people, architects and myself included, who would love to live in buildings like this.
That made me think about my definition of 'loving' this kind of social housing....I love it because deep down I do tend to believe in some of the ideals that the building's designers alluded to. And I love the diversity it brings to the cityscape. There is nothing more depressing than rows and low-lying blocks of 'modern' housing.
But maybe I am too idealistic and perhaps we need more people like Lynsey, who have lived the reality and seen the architects' dreams shatter.