Heritage campaigners have urged Camden Council to investigate ‘alarming’ works taking place at RIBA Gold Medallist Neave Brown’s Grade II*-listed Alexandra Road estate
Both the Twentieth Century Society and fellow conservation body DoCoMoMo UK have sounded the alarm over the impact of a kitchen replacement programme at the much-loved 1978 housing block.
Visiting the site earlier this month, they reported seeing original tiles dumped in a rubbish collection area, smashed concrete worktops, plastic ducting left trailing across walls, and laminated chipboard units replacing custom-made plywood originals.
Camden Council granted listed building consent in October 2017 for works designed by Levitt Bernstein to carry out a Better Homes Programme upgrade of kitchens, bathrooms and electrical wiring across the estate.
This approval followed the signing in May 2016 of a Heritage Partnership Agreement (HPA) over the works between the council and the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England.
‘There are aspects of the works that the society considers to be damaging to the architectural and historic interest of the estate,’ wrote Twentieth Century Society caseworker Grace Etherington to the north London borough’s director of property management Gavin Haynes
‘The HPA makes it clear that this project must be undertaken with the building’s listed status as a key priority, and it is alarming that the work being carried out and the approach of contractors is in no way consistent with this.
‘The society hopes these concerns are investigated and addressed as a matter of urgency to prevent further unnecessary damage.’
Before (left) and after (right) Alexandra Road refurbishment
DoCoMoMo UK – the British branch of the International Committee for Documentation and Conservation of Buildings, Sites and Neighbourhoods of the Modern Movement – itself raised ‘deep concern’ over the refurbishment programme.
‘We were disturbed to inspect one kitchen where all the original concrete worktops and plywood joinery had been smashed out,’ said the body. ‘The resident was distraught, telling us that far more of her kitchen had been removed than she had agreed with the contractors.
‘The current works set a worrying precedent, weakening the case against contravention of listed protection by private owners.’
Mark Swenarton, emeritus professor of architecture at the University of Liverpool and author of a book on Camden housing projects, said: ’The destruction of the Neave Brown interiors at Alexandra Road currently taking place is nothing short of a scandal.
‘The Twentieth Century Society has spelled out the ways in which the Heritage Partnership Agreement is being contravened by the works and have told Camden what steps it needs to take to remedy this. What we need now is simple: for Camden to do so.’
A Camden Council spokesperson said: ’Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate has listed status. The council is proud of this status and is working to ensure that it delivers home improvements while preserving this asset and its architectural heritage.
’The internal works currently being undertaken at the Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate are in connection with the council’s Better Homes Programme and are being carried out with due regard to an HPA which was developed in lengthy consultations with Historic England and the residents and approved by the local planning authority. The HPA allows the removal of certain heritage features in particular circumstances, depending on various factors, including the number of original features present.
Source: Rob Schofield
’The health and safety of residents is of paramount importance to the council and the works being undertaken will ensure that this objective is met. Homes are being upgraded to modern standards to the extent that is reasonable practicable within the constraints of their listed status, and a significant amount of discussion and planning has taken place to ensure that the heritage is maintained where possible.
’The delivery teams are working closely with the council’s enforcement team and conservation officers, as well as an independent consultant architectural practice, to audit the implementation of the HPA.’
The RIBA this year launched an award named after social housing pioneer Neave Brown, who died last year and designed some of Britain’s most imaginative post-war public housing before winning the 2018 RIBA Gold Medal.
Full response from Levitt Bernstein
We were originally appointed to the Better Homes programme to set out the parameters within a formal Listed Building Heritage Partnership Agreement (LBPHA), for the refurbishment and upgrade of kitchens and bathrooms across the Alexandra Road estate. After significant consultation with residents, Camden Council, Historic England and others, this work was completed in 2017.
We share the concerns of residents’ and other interest groups
We were not appointed to carry out individual heritage assessments or oversee or monitor progress on site and would strongly condemn any works being undertaken outside of the LBPHA or listed building consent. We share the concerns of residents’ and other interest groups if this has been the case.
Camden Council has now approached us to have 100 per cent oversight of future developments to ensure compliance. In doing so, we would hope to ensure that the works – as agreed by Camden Council, the Tenants and Residents Association and Historic England – are delivered as the LBHPA states. Our primary aim is to protect and enhance this iconic estate and extend its life for future generations to occupy and enjoy.