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Anger as Central Hill is rejected for listing

The 1960s Central Hill housing estate in Crystal Palace
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The Twentieth Century Society has slammed Historic England for its refusal to list the 1960s Central Hill estate in south London

The Crystal Palace housing scheme, built between 1966 and1974, was designed by Rosemary Stjernstedt under Lambeth Council’s director of architecture, Ted Hollamby. In the AJ in April this year former Lambeth architect Kate Macintosh called the estate ‘a treasure of responsible housing design, which should be carefully cherished for future generations’.

The low-rise estate of more than 450 homes is recommended for demolition under Lambeth’s estate regeneration plans, drawn up by PRP. 

Central hill estate 2

Central hill estate 2

Source: Brixtonbuzz.com

Central Hill estate, Lambeth

In a report by Historic England, the organisation said that the estate lacked ‘the combination of finely construed architectural units, integrated into a creative and sophisticated plan’ to merit its listing. It did, however, acknowledge that the scheme represented an early exploration of Le Corbusier’s ‘hill town’ concept within England. 

Historic England said in a statement: ‘Central Hill is an interesting example of a post-war housing estate. It is the largest of the Hollamby-era housing schemes to have a bespoke design and the plan ensures homes enjoy plenty of natural daylight.

‘However, the estate wasn’t a pioneer for social housing at the time and much of the success of the scheme is due to the topography, rather than architectural flair. In comparison with listed estates, such as those by Camden Borough Council, there is not the complexity or quality of detail within the architecture to warrant listing at a national level.’

But Catherine Croft, director of The Twentieth Century Society, which backed the case for listing, criticised Historic England’s decision, saying the estate was an ‘extremely good bit of post-war public housing’. 

She said: [If the estate is demolished] we will lose an excellent bit of post-war design, and some very good examples of placemaking. The inside of the flats and houses are very well designed – a lot of them have got split-level living. It has good-quality, generously sized apartments [and] a really nice public realm.’

If the estate is demolished, we will lose an excellent bit of post-war design

Croft added: ‘What’s significant about [the estate] is the way that it responds to the topography through the site and uses a simple vocabulary of architectural elements. It’s very sensible – it’s not sexy, innovative, iconic architecture – it’s good design for living.’ 

PRP was appointed by Lambeth Council to draw up options for the redevelopment of the estate in 2014. The council is currently consulting residents about the future of the estate and a decision on the proposals is expected next month. 

PRP was contacted for comment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Readers' comments (2)

  • ‘Lacked the combination of finely construed architectural units, integrated into a creative and sophisticated plan.’

    ‘Wasn’t a pioneer for social housing at the time and much of the success of the scheme is due to the topography, rather than architectural flair.’

    ‘Not the complexity or quality of detail within the architecture to warrant listing at a national level.’

    On such aesthetic judgements is the fate of over a thousand residents’ homes decided. Not that Historic England even considered that.

    Snouts in the trough.

    Simon Elmer
    Architects forSocial Housing

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  • Reading the EH Inspector’s report on Central Hill it is difficult to see why they did not recommend listing. The response to the site, building close to the contour lines, in emulation of Italian hill towns is praised. But the tone of the report changes saying “However, for all its positive qualities, phase I of Central Hill relies on the drama of its topography for much of its effect, rather than the virtuosity of its architecture.” Many might think that on such a dramatic site, restraint and modesty in the architecture was a virtue. It criticises the “narrow paths between blocks, which are not 'Ways' are screened by walled yards, so to the north the narrow path which separates each block is not surveilled.” Such intimate routes are exactly what is found in Italian hill towns.

    The importance of the authorship of the scheme by a pioneering woman architect, Rosemary Stjernstedt, is acknowledged, but “is not a deciding factor”. One wonders whether Stjernstedt’s preference for keeping a low profile professionally may not have done her any favours.

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