One of the best things about living on the London underground is having such easy access to London’s countless cultural venues and range of exhibitions. At first glance the V&A – a museum of art and design – may seem an unexpected place to host an exhibition about social housing. It’s a small exhibition, but worth a visit because it helps explain the creative ideas and drive to house people in carefully designed places as a cornerstone of their lives.
The exhibition starts outside the architecture gallery, well worth a look in itself, with a model of Neave Brown’s Alexandra Road estate, designed in the days when councils employed their own architects. Many know this estate viewed from the railway line out of Euston, and I for one didn’t know what existed on the otherwise of the stepped concrete structure until much more recently.
Also featured is the Boundary estate, London’s first council housing estate from around 1900. Not surprisingly the modernists including Lubetkin’s Spa Green estate as well as Fry and Denby’s lovely Kensal House feature (more on Elizabeth Denby another time). Pictures and a model of Denys Lasdun‘s Keeling House is displayed. The common thread is that these architects wanted to create something better and their commitment to well designed housing really shines through.
Byker Wall also features. This is on my wish list of places to visit at some point, of particular interest because of the area clearance and redevelopment. Photographer Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen has captured the community living in the Victorian terraces and the new homes that replaced them in photograph and film, to great acclaim.
The exhibition displays a quote from Kenneth Campbell (1976) in Home Sweet Home: “the future will not lie in rigidly applied theories, but in the development of a more flexible and wide-ranging way of thinking about housing.”
The V&A is soon to host part of the Robin Hood Gardens estate, designed by husband and wife architects the Smithsons, pioneers of “streets in the sky”. The decision to demolish this estate has attracted controversy and has been a lengthy process. The V&A will acquire part of this significant example of Brutalist architecture in social house for display. Opinion on this also seems divided, but it’s certainly an important example of housing heritage. My website designer chose to use one of my photographs of Robin Hood Gardens across the top of these website pages. That feels quite ironic now.