Tower block on the Golden Lane Estate

The Golden Lane Estate is a 1950's council housing complex in the London. It was built on the northern edge of the City, in an area devastated by bombing in World War II.


The idea to build a residential site to the north of the Cripplegate area, followed devastation of much of the City of London in The Blitz during World War II. Following almost complete destruction in the Blitz, only around 500 people remained in the City in 1950, a mere 50 of whom lived in Cripplegate. The brief was to provide council housing at subsidised rents for the many people who serviced the offices in the City, particularly caretakers, secretaries and police officers, as part of the recovery strategy for the City. There was an emphasis on single people and couples, rather than families.

The site, just north of the historic quarter of Aldersgate, had previously been occupied by small Victorian industries and businesses. Some of the basements of the bombed buildings were retained as sunken areas of the landscaping.It was designed by architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, who later designed the adjacent, Barbican Estate.

The estate was commissioned and paid for by the City of London but constructed in the immediately adjacent Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury, later forming part of the London Borough of Islington; it was transferred to the City of London in the 1990s, following boundary changes lobbied for by residents. However, it is distinguished from the bulk of the City of London, which is today the largely non-residential European financial services capital. The Estate has more in common socially and economically with the Clerkenwell creative district surrounding it, especially in view of the large number of designers and architects now in residence. The first phase of the estate was officially opened in 1957. The estate was enlarged to the West, with three buildings added later: Cullum Welch House and Hatfield House and Crescent House, this last completed in 1962.

The Golden Lane CompetitionEdit

The competition for designs was announced in 1951 and at a time when post WWII recovery was still slow the opportunity to design such an estate attracted a lot of interest among architects. The competition and entries to it were covered widely in the architectural and popular press. Golden Lane Estate is architecturally important as the first work of the partnership formed when Geoffry Powell won the competition to build the estate on 26 February 1952. The three partners-to-be of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon were all lecturers in architecture Kingston School of Art and had entered into an agreement that if any one of them won, they would share the commission. The competition was assessed by Donald McMorran, who also designed (in conservative style) housing for the Corporation of London. Alison and Peter Smithson were among the dozens of entrants to the competition, and though not even runners-up in the competition they publicised their unsuccessful entry energetically in the press.

Architecture of the Estate Edit

The maisonette blocks are faced with panels in primary colours (red & blue on maisonette blocks and yellow on the tower block), and there is innovative use of materials throughout the site. There is less use of unfaced concrete than in the Barbican. However, some of the concrete surfaces which are today painted were originally unpainted; they suffered early on from staining and streaking from iron pyrites in the aggregate). Inside, maisonettes display open tread concrete staircases projecting from the party walls as a cantilever. This, and the fact that the bedrooms are suspended, structurally speaking, without supports over the living rooms gives very very compact planning with a surprisingly spacious feel to small flats, in spite of the fact they they were built under severe Government building restrictions of the post WW II years. The engineer was Felix Samuely. Some maisonettes retain their hour-glass shaped hot water radiators, visible in windows. Crescent House, the last of the blocks to be completed in 1962, runs along Goswell Road and shows a tougher aesthetic that the architects were developing at the adjacent Barbican scheme, the early phases of which were by then on site.

The architects kept to their brief of providing the high density within the 7 acres available. The visual anchor of the design is the tower block of one bedroomed flats, Great Arthur House, which provides a vertical emphasis at the centre of the development and, at 16 storeys, was on completion briefly the tallest residential building in Britain. The three-level roof garden of the block boasts fabulous views, pergolas and an ornamental pool which in sunshine reflects ripples on the underside of the extravagant curved concrete canopy. This roof garden one of the finest architectural spaces of 1950s British architecture has sadly been closed for more than a decade due to suicides.

A Model for Social Housing & Urban Living Edit

When completed the estate attracted even more publicity than the architectural competition as a symbol of post-war recovery. It was widely photographed and written about. Today the estate is home to approximately 1,500 people living in 640 one, two, three or four room flats. A little more than half of the flats have been sold on long leases under the Right to buy scheme provisions brought in by the Margaret Thatcher government, and fetch high prices. The rental flats continue as council housing with preference given to City of London workers, let at affordable rents. Applications for rented housing units can be made to the City of London. As a result the Golden Lane Estate is more balanced socially than the adjacent Barbican, which was conceived from the beginning as luxury housing. The Barbican is a strongly defended suburb, its high-income housing aloof from the street and elevated on a podium. The Golden Lane Estate is notably permeable, with pedestrian routes crossing through it and a friendly accessible architecture.

On the western edge of the estate is a line of shops, and there is a tenants' hall and club room, a public swimming pool and gym, police office, estate office, nursery, pub and tennis courts (originally bowls green) - the whole combining to make an urban microcosm. These facilities mostly survive in their original uses, preserving the values that lay behind the creation of the estate. Once common in post-WWII local authority planning and housing, this idealism, commitment to quality design and a wholistic vision of urban living have in many cases been abandoned by municipalities.

Corbusian InfluencesEdit

Both the earlier work and that at Crescent House is clearly influenced by the work of Le Corbusier, an influence the architects were happy to acknowledge. Crescent House displays affinities with his Maisons Jaoul at Neuilly-sur-Seine whilst the maisonettes, with their open plan stairs and double height stair spaces, are reminiscent of those at his Unite d'Habitation in Marseilles and elsewhere. The idea of making the estate an urban microcosm is itself a strand of Le Corbusier's thinking, at the Unites and elsewhere. The detailing and finishes of the Golden Lane Estate are, however, more resolved and better designed than many in Le Corbusier's work.

Listed Building Status Edit

The Estate comprises Listed buildings of Special architectural interest, at Grade II since 1997 except for Crescent House which is Listed at Grade II* in view of its importance in post-war residential architecture. The estate has been well maintained, though there has been steady erosion of design detail, especially in the last decade. In 2006/2007, to address this Listed Building Management Guidelines were developed with Avanti Architects, a panel or residents and other stakeholders for the maintenance of the estate, to ensure its important characteristics are preserved. Though Listing restricts owner's freedom to change their flats, under pain of criminal prosecution, Listing has in fact increased values as there is increased pressure on the City of London to maintain the estate better than in the recent past.


External linksEdit

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