The RIBA and Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) have joined forces to display six pioneering experiments in social housing from their archives. “A Home for All” features designs “from a tower block that up-ended the terraced street, to a DIY kit that encouraged residents to design their own homes.”
The six projects, all commissioned by public authorities, demonstrate both the crucial role played by the state in providing housing, and the role of the architect in creating high-quality housing through personal philosophy, new ideas, integration of best practice, and lessons from previous mistakes.
The exhibition, free to the public at the V&A + RIBA Gallery on Cromwell Road, London, is freely open to the public seven days per week. On display are original architectural drawings, photographs, site plans, and building models. It will also contain archival poster and protest material, uncovering the rift in public opinion towards social housing policies.
Spa Green / Tecton
Constructed 1946-49, London
RIBA and V&A: This estate was one of the first examples in England of Modernist architecture used for social housing, conceived using principles of health and hygiene. The 126 flats span the width of each block, providing sunlight, air and views on both sides. Bedrooms overlook a quiet courtyard while the living spaces are situated on the street side. An innovative aerofoil-shaped roof was designed to accelerate wind-flow for drying laundry. It was radically generous social housing for its time.
Keeling House / Denys Lasdun & Partners
Constructed 1954-59, London
RIBA and V&A: Keeling House was an early experiment in ‘cluster block’ housing. This innovative form placed four 16 storey blocks around a free-standing services tower. The linked blocks were designed to balance the existing community of the street with a sense of seclusion. Privacy was achieved with short access balconies that serve only two flats and face each other at oblique angles. The shared central platforms provided the communal services such as laundry.
Alexandra Road Estate / Neave Brown,
Constructed 1968-78, London
RIBA and V&A: The Alexandra Road Estate is a pioneering example of high-density, low-rise housing. Neave Brown was vehemently opposed to high-rise residential towers and instead proposed a ‘social street’ for this awkward site alongside a railway line. This shared street encourages a convivial sense of community neighborliness and belonging.
Byker Estate /Ralph Erskine Arkitektkontor
Constructed 1969-82, Newcastle
RIBA and V&A: The Byker Estate is an ambitious example of participatory design that involved extensive consultation with existing residents. The architect set up his office on site, where future residents could drop in to examine the plans and discuss the project. The estate replaced a neighborhood of terraces, which were demolished and replaced in stages to enable neighbors and families to be re-housed together. The estate was a clear break from concrete modernism that had come to define post-war social housing and remains a striking example of an estate embodying the complexity of a community.
Primary Support Structure and Housing Assembly Kits (PSSHAK) / Greater London Council Architects’ Department
Constructed 1971-79, London
RIBA and V&A: PSSHAK began as a student project at the Architectural Association in the late 1960s. The architects developed a flexible design process which enabled occupants to play an active part in the design of their homes. Each block was a shell that could be sub-divided to contain different combinations of individual dwellings. Each tenant was invited to design their layout with help from the architects and an instruction manual.
Lions Green Road / Mary Duggan Architects
2017- ongoing, London
RIBA and V&A: This project was commissioned by Croydon Council’s development company, Brick by Brick, and represents both a renaissance and a new direction in council-led social housing provision. The design imagines 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, blurring boundaries between private residence, shared space and publicly accessible parkland.