Friday, 4 March 2011

"Welcome to Failed Utopia"

Guardian has another post on the Heygate: 'The Death of a Housing Utopia'.

Included is an interview with one of the last 11 residents: Adrian Glasspool who bought his flat on the Estate in 1997. Mr. Glasspool argues that: "

a tightly knit community, with many residents who had been here from the beginning in 1974, has been destroyed and scattered to distant parts of the borough. He says one elderly woman, long decanted, still comes back to walk her dog.

Glasspool calls the destruction of the Heygate an example of "environmental determinism". "It's part of the same discourse that was being bandied around in the 1960s," he argues. "Then it was said that the tenement buildings needed to be demolished because they didn't create an environment where people could live happily. It was precisely what is being said now." He believes the idea that the estate was "blighted" by crime and drugs was part invention – the product of an excitable media and of film-makers who liked to use the Heygate as a set for gritty realist dramas – and part self-fulfilling prophecy, as the council neglected maintenance and replaced long-term tenants with short-term licensees, who tended to be more disruptive.

From another of the remaining residents:

"It's been a long road," A cold one, too: the communal heating system has ceased to work, and he is reduced to warming his flat with small convector heaters. "But the harder things get, the more determined you become." Like Glasspool, he doesn't understand why the estate had to go. "There are a lot of bright, enthusiastic, imaginative architectural students who could do something amazing with it – a coat of paint, lighting. And there must be professional architects who would be interested in it as a social project. But it's not about that; it's all about the gentrification of the area. They've chosen to knock this estate down because it's in a prime location."

Also interviewed is Tim Tinker, the estate's architect, who visits the almost abandoned estate after an absence of ten years:

"I don't think it was in any sense a failed estate," he tells me as we survey his decayed handiwork. "There are failed estates, but this wasn't one of them. The hardware – what we provided in concrete and brick – was relatively OK. The problem was there wasn't the software to run the damn thing. There was a huge influx of new housing [in the 60s and early 70s], and management never really understood what they had."

Tinker also believes the council wants to knock the Heygate down because of its central location. "There weren't any problems [with the estate] until relatively recently, but the council eyed it as an opportunity. Councils always go for big-bang, new-build solutions, as opposed to looking after what they've got. Now, sometimes big-bang solutions are right, but quite often they're not and the net gain is limited."

For someone whose principal architectural legacy is about to be knocked down, the 75-year-old Tinker is remarkably philosophical.

"It's the past," he says. "People buying their houses wasn't an issue then. The idea in those days was that local authority housing should be for all. It wasn't only for the people who'd fallen under Mr Cameron's 'big society'. There was a clear feeling that local authority housing should avoid that stigma."

Tinker adds:

"Utopian is a dangerous word . . . but if you're working in local-authority housing you're bound to have a utopian view. What's the point of doing it otherwise? You look back now and ask why people were enamoured with modern architecture, and I would suggest it was to do with light, sunlight. At that time these inner-city areas were extremely nasty, smoky, dirty places. The Elephant was still pretty bad, with tanneries and God knows what else." The flats he designed were light and airy, and the now despised walkways were created to keep people away from cars, which back in the late 60s when the estate was planned were just on the point of becoming ubiquitous.

He says the early tenants responded to those utopian intentions. "I used to go into the flats for the regular defects inspections," he recalls, "and it was always interesting to see what people had done to their flats or maisonettes. People did amazing things inside."

The last word goes to Dickson Powers, former housing director of Peabody Trust:
"It's ridiculously expensive to knock estates down, After they've knocked them down, they're still paying for them. They were all built on the basis of a 60-year payback period. These are not dysfunctional buildings. If you invest in them, they will be perfectly fine. There's been this vogue recently for this kind of approach, which says, 'This is an awful estate, we give up, we can't manage it, what we're going to do is knock it down, redevelop it at three times the density and fill it up with owner-occupiers who will be a good example to these feckless local authority tenants.'"

He finds the approach naive as well as patronising, because many of the flats are bought not by owner-occupiers but by investment companies on a buy-to-let basis, and their tenants often lead even more chaotic lives than people in social housing.

Like Power, he favours a more flexible approach. "It's unsustainable to build such robust and structurally sound properties, and then take them away after 30 or 40 years. We have to build on a much longer cycle, and if necessary we have to be prepared to allow the people in those buildings to change. Let them evolve. If you have the right kind of buildings, uses can swill backwards and forwards. Supposing someone wanted to convert part of the Heygate estate into office suites; great, let's do it. It's the organic city, as opposed to the tidy-minded planned city that says, 'You were once social housing, so you will always be social housing.'"

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Short Video Tribute to the Heygate

I know I haven't posted in a long time. I'm planning a round-up, but in the meantime, here is a short video tribute to the Heygate:

Friday, 30 April 2010

Montly (or thereabouts) round-up

Bit late on this one this month folks . . . well, here we go:

Some nice images of the Heygate from james_rawimages

Nice photo essay of remaining residents from Yimmit Photography

From Milkshake: the Heygate wind turbine produced half the electricity as originally predicted

According to the Worker's Revolutionary Party, heat and hot water shut off 'permanently' and coucil sends out notice promising 'alternative arrangements. Interview with some remaining tennants.  This confirmed by Southwark News. Also,  from Southwark News: 'Waiting for new home mental torture' says Estate pensioner.'

Empty Heygate Estate by photographer Zara Lloyd

From People's Republic of Southwark: Heygate Myths.  According to an MORI poll, 11 years ago, 55% of Heygate residents were satisfied with life on the estate, undermining the myth of the 'infamous' Heygate sink estate promulgated by the media.

Views from the roof of the Heygate 

Arty Elephants from Southwark News

And last, but certainly not least, the Original HeygateSE17 has now reached 501 members (thus giving more backing to the 'Heygate Myths'.

All for now - I'll try to get up to speed this month with another post in a couple of weeks.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Monthly (or thereabouts) round-up

Photo: Will Montgomery (shot early morning on the Heygate).

Utopia Revisited: an evocative short of the Heygate by Dan Tassell. Post by Dan at Captured City blog detailing his latest return to the Heygate.

Will Montgomery has an exhibit with Owen Hatherley (author of Militant Modernism) at the Southbank Centre on April 21st. From the program notes:
Will Montgomery presents a sound-art piece recorded and shot at the various locales in Elephant and Castle - one of the most contested public spaces in London's history. Using field recordings combined with architectural imagery, Montgomery presents the work and then talks to Owen Hatherley, author of Militant Modernism.

London SE1: Final regeneration deal between Lend Lease and Southwark Council postponed until after elections. From Southwark News: Eviction Notices In as Demolitions Start

From Milkshake: The Tower Block. Fascinating ebook.

random at theatre local, Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre. 
See Random review here.

Some references to music videos on the Heygate on, including a video by Madonna! Who knew? Madge gets down on the estate stairwells at 00:45.

Estates Gazette: All go at the Elephant crows on about the Strata Tower. Asking price at the Strata: A cool half million pounds. According to the related Times article 'The High Life in the Elephant and Castle', 20 of the 310 flats in the Strata are reserved for former residents of the Heygate. Another 98 'affordable flats' are to be launched.

More pictures and descriptions of the view from the Strata at Londonist

Shank and the perils of shooting on location Remaining Heygate residents called in the police after a mock gang war breaks out on the estate. Shank is  a dystopian drama set in the future when the divide between rich and poor have grown to massive proportions. Wait! That sounds like now!

More nice pics of Heygate and Strata from skyscraper city

Last but certainly not least: The Original Heygate SE17 Facebook group is up to 505 members!

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Monthly (or thereabouts) round-up

Excellent write-up from London blogger Joshua Surtees walking around the estate. He interviews a couple of remaining residents. 

From Southwark Notes: A history of the Heygate regeneration

An amazing slide show from Milkshake, Heygate plans first in 2009, then 1969: 'First as tragedy, then as farce'.

A couple of art projects involving the Heygate: 

matteo borzone's collage of garage doors from the Heygate

A fictional re-inhabitation of the estate 

A documentary series called HAM, by William Williamson. HAM episode 1, is divided between the Heygate estate and Commercial street. 


Photographer Mauro Battoro's series: Mainliners.

An amateur slide show of the estate early this year.

Latecomer: fellow named gaskinz on flickr

Yet more filming on the Heygate: The Bill

And last, but certainly not least: Facebook group The Original Heygate SE17 is close to 500 members!

Monday, 1 February 2010

Update (monthly or thereabouts)

At last an update . . .

What with the hols and being ill for weeks after said hols, I haven't had the energy to update this blog. But not much in the news has come my way either . . .

A couple of things

From the South London Press : Facebook group for the Heygate Estate.

As of this writing, 412 former residents of the Heygate Estate have joined a group called 'The Original Heygate SE17

Another Elephant-related facebook group: The Elephant and Castle is a dump but we like it that way

From Southark News: 'Council Looks to Government for 'payment holiday' on Debt'

Apparently, Southwark council is still paying off the debt, with interest, incurred 50 years ago to build, among other things, the North Peckham Estate and the Heygate.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Snow on the Heygate

                                          Photo: Johnathon Gales

A couple of new photo essays of the Heygate have turned up in my google news feed, taken during the recent snowstorm in London. The above photograph, taken by Johnathon Gales, is of my old home, Claydon House, with the new 'gateway to the Elephant' the Strada Tower, rising up behind it. His blog, thoughts not thoughts has more photographs.

   What was most striking, aside from the empty windows, was the desolate quality of the Strada. At first I wasn't even sure what it was - the tower was still at the foundation stage when I left last year. From this angle it looks like a giant American flag . . .

Also, more haunting images from Dan Tassell at  Captured City: the bleak beauty of the Heygate Estate

                                          Photo: Dan Tassell

Apperently, some people still live on the estate. These images remind me of one of my last entries when I still lived on the Heygate: Endgame One More Step, when I wrote:

How will it be when the whole estate is empty but for one or two holdouts? How would it be occupy a single flat in a building this vast, to feel the emptiness spreading out through the building at night, to walk down gangways past sealed off flats, knowing no one else’s steps will tread the concrete stairwells – to know the building will soon be rubble?
I wonder how that feels to occupy these hulking empty buildings now . . .