I live on a housing estate that is the result of optimism that followed one of the darkest times in human history - the Second World War. It was built in the idealism of post-war Britain, by architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon (who went on to build the Barbican). It was, as I have said in previous posts, built to house blue collar workers serving the City of London, allowing the City to start generating income for the country again. It was radical and humane in terms of design - it was about the details - how to make council housing as attractive as possible for single parents, couples who had not yet had children, and families with one or two children.
Collage of Golden Lane estate by artist Liz Davis
It was landscaped into the city, in such a way to ensure that every view is striking. I enjoy its contrast and variety, never tiring of the vistas that open up as I walk through the estate, and of the colours, textures, shapes and varying levels. The flats are small but they feel capacious thanks to careful detailing and visual tricks - such as the floorboards on the top floor of the maisonette running the length of the floor, through both rooms, and ‘floating walls’ that have a recessed gap at the top. The buildings reflected an optimism- the planet was turning to face the sun - mankind, in some countries, was trying to find a better way for people to live, and it was an expression of care for those towards the bottom of the social ladder.
Until the recent US election we lived in the post-war age - but now we are in a new historical period. The Russian word perelom comes to mind - a break or turning point.
Now if I say to someone: 'I live on a post-war housing estate', I might have to explain which war.
Golden Lane Estate is the child of socialist experiments such as Narkomfin in Moscow - the layout of whose flats Le Corbusier studied carefully when in Moscow and who was in turn an influence on Chamberlin, Powell and Bon - for example in the ‘wimple’ that tops Great Arthur House.
‘The world', as a friend wrote on social media shortly after the US election 'is now run by a billionaire property developer.' This is the crushing truth. And as is well known - property development attracts psychopaths/sociopaths- those who like to take risks and who, especially these days, have a disregard for ordinary people in their striving to make money from luxury apartments - 'safety deposit boxes in the sky' as Simon Jenkins calls them. But not all property developers, and not in all times, as Golden Lane is a witness to, and the art it keeps inspiring.
The estate is greatly loved by its inhabitants as was evident in the art and design for sale at our Christmas Fair held at the weekend where I enjoyed the stitch work of Tina Crawford of Tobyboo (below) and the beautiful collages of artist Liz Davis. Good social housing is not top of the agenda in the UK or America right now. What darkness will we have to go through before social projects of such care and high quality are embarked upon again? Monuments of the past, including Golden Lane, and the values they carry, can be beacons now.
|Great Arthur House stitched by Tina Crawford of Tobyboo|
Collage of Golden Lane Estate by artist Liz Davis