This was the third year that we have opened up Cressingham Gardens estate to visitors with an exhibition in our Rotunda and tours all weekend into private homes and gardens. It is an incredible weekend and it is a moment of pride for the residents. It really does wonders for the residents to hear visitors expressing their amazement at how lovely the estate is and how they don't understand why Lambeth council would want to demolish the estate and community (particularly as its protection is being advocated by English Heritage, 20th Century Society & Save Britain's Heritage).
A BIG thank you to the organisers of OpenHouse!
The Architects Journal wrote an article on the Cressingham Gardens Rotunda on 28th Novermber 1979 (from page 1136), then referred to as the Circular School.
The blurb from the London Open House 2013 factsheet:
Cressingham Gardens was one of several low-rise housing estates designed and built by the Lambeth Borough Architects’ Department between 1967 and 1979. Led by Edward Hollamby, the office produced some of the most innovative council housing in the country including Central Hill, Blenheim Gardens, Auckland Hill, Cherry Laurel Gardens, and the Moorlands in Brixton.
Some estates were formal in their layouts e.g. Blenheim Gardens, Cherry Laurel Walk, The Moorlands. Others such as Central Hill, Auckland Hill and Cressingham Gardens were more site specific responding directly to the unique character of their locations.
In the case of Cressingham Gardens the site was on a well-treed slope above historic Brockwell Park. The layout was clearly influenced by the topography and the location of existing trees and was set out to include as many natural green spaces as possible. The variety of dwelling types allowed careful control of the height of the development so that it did not project above the tree line when viewed from Brockwell Park. The Lambeth News Release noted: “the buildings are so arranged that the tallest ones will be at the outer perimeter of the development and the lowest ones at the centre. Thus, as many people as possible will get fine views from their new homes.”
Lambeth was so proud of the original design, that they had a rare comment noted in the Council minutes that “congratulations were conveyed to the officers on a bold and imaginative scheme” and even issued a press release about the scheme when work started on site. A copy of the press release still exists in the V&A RIBA archives. Indeed, Cressingham Gardens is a unique combination of innovative design and integration into a pre-existing landscape complete with then mature trees.
The Estate is currently under threat as Lambeth Council is looking at partial and full demolition options due to a lack of funds it has to implement the Decent Homes Standard across the borough.
Interesting Historical Connections:
John Major (future Prime Minister) was one of the Councillors that approved the design for the Cressingham Gardens Estate in 1969. And Ken Livingstone, future Mayor of London, was the Vice-Chair on the Housing Committee and present when the decision was made for Lambeth’s own Directorate of Construction Services to take over the construction of the Cressingham Gardens estate in 1974.
There are a number of very clear recurring themes and design principles that inform the overall layout and the detail design of the dwellings. These include:
The dwellings have been designed to maximise daylight. Some of the techniques used include:
- Dual-sloping roofs with vertical skylights. For example, dwellings located on the northern side of a pedestrianised way are still able to benefit from full light for the entire day through their south facing vertical skylights. If such dwellings had had flat roofs, they would be mostly in the shade and consequently very dark.
- Full length glass windows from ceiling to floor in all dwellings
- Glass roofing to increase light intake into rooms
There was a design decision to keep the use of internal walls to a minimum in order to promote a greater feel of openness throughout the dwellings. Design techniques to enhance this concept included:
- No wall between the kitchen and the lounge so that there is a perspective of the full length of the dwelling, giving the sense of greater space and light.
- Internal windows looking down from the kitchen into the lounge in split level dwellings
- Full length windows and doors the entire length of a wall in the living areas onto natural landscape areas (not onto walkways), e.g. lounge windows extending the full length of the wall and looking onto a patio garden.
- Due to the slope of the ceilings and the vertical skylights, ceilings are in excess of 3 metres at their peak.
The architects felt that it was very important to create a village-like feel to promote community formation. This was achieved on Cressingham Gardens by the series of pedestrianised walkways, onto which front doors of dwellings all face, located opposite each other. The design features that helped promote the village community feel included:
- Central green space reminiscent of a ‘village square’
- The Rotunda, used for community events, is located centrally on the estate.
- Vehicles are restricted to the perimeter of the estate
- Small narrow passageways between buildings and under buildings reminiscent of the ‘unplanned’ feel of medieval villages
- The gardens of the bungalows are typically only fenced in with low picket fences.
- Kitchens are always located on the pedestrianised walkway side of a dwelling
One of Cressingham Gardens’ greatest assets is its natural landscape and the design and layout of the dwellings take full advantage:
- Staggered height of buildings, with the taller buildings located on the perimeter of the estate, means that the maximum number of dwellings have views of Brockwell Park
- Living spaces overlook green spaces, patio gardens and natural landscapes.
- Concrete flowerbeds are built into the raised walkways of the taller buildings, in order to bring nature up to all dwellings
- The estate generally sits below the tree line, making it essentially invisible from the “wild meadows” of Brockwell Park.
- Trees planted in the middle of pedestrianised paved walkways
- Upon entering the estate, it is very quiet. This is due both to the layout of the estate and the design of the dwellings. The dwellings are extremely well insulated for noise with concrete floors and brick walls, as well as potentially ‘noisy’ living areas not facing the pedestrianised walkways, but rather typically overlooking green spaces that absorb the sound.
The Design Team - Phase One, 1967-73:
Lambeth Borough Architects Department
Borough Architect: Ted Hollamby (later Chief Planner and Director of Development)
Team Group Leader: Don Eastaugh
Job Architects: Charles Attwood succeeded by Roger Bicknell
Assistant Architect: Tony Spicer
Clerks of Works: Vic Goldsmith, Bart Marshall & Len Ralph
Ove Arup & Partners - Group 3 led by Ted Happold
Engineers: John Hills, John Morrison, Peter Buckthorpe
Dunwoody & Partners
Dearle & Henderson
Carlton Contractors Ltd (May 1971-Jun 1973)
The Design Team - Phase Two, 1973-78:
Lambeth Borough Architects Department
Borough Planner and Director of Development: Edward Hollamby
Chief Architect: Rae Evans
Dry Halasz Dixon (later Dry Hastwell Butlin & Partners)
Partner: Vincent Hastwell
Project Architect: Roger Bicknell
Ove Arup & Partners
Partner: Peter Dunican
Engineers: Martin Jenkins, Ron Chappell, Victor Kemp & Don Kerns
J E Greatorex & Partners
Dearle & Henderson
Lambeth Directorate of Construction Services (Jun 1973-Sep 1978)
Sorry, we weren't able to pick up the phone on Friday last when you were asking for comment. Tried reaching you on Saturday and Monday, but obviously you must have already gone to press by the end of Friday.
On the estate, 30% of the residents are leaseholders/freeholders and 70% are still council homes. Of the council homes, the council says that 40% do not meet their Decent Homes Standard, which means only 28% of homes are actually non-decent. This includes homes that haven't had a new kitchen for 35 years when they were first installed.
The estate only needs a bit of TLC to bring it back to its former glory. And despite the council's poor record of repairs & maintenance, the design & architecture of the estate has created an amazing community and one that has a below level of crime. It is actually a role model community and highly desired by all that live both on and off the estate. The demand for properties is extremely high, because people rarely leave due to the high quality of life and community.
Council claims that it is expensive to maintain the estate. However, based on information acquired through Freedom of Information requests, the average repairs & maintenance cost per dwelling on Cressingham Gardens is not even in the top quartile of Lambeth estates. Based on further detailed analysis, it is possible to show that there has been potentially chronic under spend compared to other estates. (All the data is publicly available on the whatdotheyknow website).
There are 6 flats that are boarded up that have been like that for approx 16 years. In a recent survey conducted by Lambeth's senior structural engineer, they estimated that it would only cost £260k to fix the subsidence and completely refurbish all 6 flats. Obviously the question is why the council has left these homes like this for 16 years when they claim that there is a housing shortage.
Yes, there is a problem with Lambeth Living's ability to complete repairs & maintenance. Apparently they have never made any insurance claims and when we have enquired by FOIs for information about warranties and guarantees on roofs & windows, they claim they have no records that such installations ever occurred. We are still investigating what looks like potentially extreme negligence.
Please, don't believe everything that the council says, as very little has stood up to scrutiny and the facts often say the opposite to the what the council claims.