By continuing to use the site you agree to our Privacy & Cookies policy

Your browser seems to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser.


Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.


Katherine Shonfield

The rebranding mania that is itself the recognisable brand of this government has left local authority housing departments proudly immune. They go in for relabelling instead. There is a council turquoise green, favoured by Lambeth and now Camden, which has been used to put an unmistakable stamp of possession on messages such as 'no ball games' and 'no dumping'.

It is, of course, understandable that local authorities under siege are staking out their own territory.

But one is struck anew by the deprivation of particularity of place that continues, unmodified, as the leitmotif of social housing.

Nowhere is this more chilling than in Camden's speciality, the castration of a qualifying name.

No bourgeois Brampton 'Gardens' or Parkside 'House' here: a stark 'Brampton'or 'Parkside' identifies blocks. Other owners attempt, if feebly, to incorporate names with architecture: on fanlights, inscribed in stone, over doorways.

Brampton and Parkside have no such respite: an unmistakable label is slapped on a flank wall. It is the difference between your name worn as a necklace, and a tatooed number on your forearm.

Forget the debate about inhumanity and the tower block.

The naming and identification of social housing alone reveals its insidious characterisation as a thing to be grateful for, bestowed from on high. What other institutions are identified like this - unless of course it be the Rampton and Parkhurst to which they are clearly close kin?

The loss of the name is a symptom of the emasculation of place which has occurred by unspoken, common agreement - but which is eminently reversible, given the will. Estates housing hundreds of people are casually smeared into generic blobs on street maps. As securely as if in Rampton or Parkhurst you are thus removed from the ebb and flow of the life of the city. For in London, as Samuel Johnson never said, to be removed from the A-Z is to be deprived of life.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment.

The searchable digital buildings archive with drawings from more than 1,500 projects

AJ newsletters