The 20th Century Society expresses fears for landmark building and for under-threat social housing at Cressingham Gardens
On the eve of the sixth election for the Mayor of London, City Hall, the building which has been the home of the capital’s devolved authority for nearly 20 years, has been placed on an “at risk” list.
Also included in this year’s 20th Century Society at risk list is Cressingham Gardens, the model social housing development alongside Brockwell Park, which Labour-controlled Lambeth Council wants to demolish to make way for expensive private houses. The 20th Century Society describes the council-built homes as one of the “most exceptional and progressive post-war social housing estates in the UK”.
The 20th Century Society publishes a Buildings at Risk List every two years to help the architectural campaigning charity “demonstrate how severe the threat is to some of the very best examples of the architecture of our period”.
The Norman Foster-designed City Hall on the South Bank alongside Tower Bridge has become a recognisable part of the capital’s skyline since it was opened by the Queen in July 2002.
The future of the purpose-built headquarters of the Greater London Authority and Mayor of London has been put in doubt since Mayor Sadiq Khan announced last year that he planned to relocate to Newham by the end of 2021 to save £11million per year on the rent charged by City Hall’s landlords, the Kuwaiti-owned St Martin’s Property Group.
The 20th Century Society has City Hall at No2 on its at risk list.
C20 has submitted an application to list the building at Grade II*, “so that any alterations proposed by a new occupant would need to be sympathetic to this outstanding building”.
But C20 say that the listing body, Historic England, “immediately rebuffed” its application because it “does not currently assess buildings for listing unless demolition is imminent”, something that the campaigners describe as “a nonsense”.
In their listing, C20 say that City Hall, “has a distinctive slanting ovoid shape, created by inclined perimeter columns. A 500metre helical walkway, which defines the interior, spirals up through the full-height atrium space.
“The starting point for the project, according to Foster’s Ken Shuttleworth, was to reduce the energy load of the building by 75 per cent and this determined the building’s shape which achieves optimum energy performance by minimising the surface area exposed to direct sunlight.
“Significantly, its design was reported to have been inspired by the practice’s earlier work rebuilding the Reichstag in Berlin, with the idea of a transparent government, open and accessible to Londoners, who should be able to watch the assembly.
“… The C20 Society is concerned about the building’s future and submitted an application to list at Grade II* ‘as a major piece of 21st-century public architecture, built for the newly-created Greater London Authority by an internationally renowned architectural practice.’ This was immediately rebuffed by Historic England which said, “Although we acknowledge your concerns about the future of the building once the Greater London Authority moves out, this does not constitute a serious threat of demolition or major alteration at this time’, adding that it is not clear that City Hall has strong potential for inclusion on the National Heritage List for England.
“Buildings under 30 years old rightly have to meet stricter criteria than older ones, but waiting until time and money has been spent on destructive plans before HE even considers listing helps no one and risks jeopardising our youngest heritage.”
The 20th Century Society’s campaigners are no less indignant about the shabby treatment of the architecture and residents of Cressingham Gardens, either.
“Designed and constructed from 1967 to 1979 by Lambeth Architects’ Department under Ted Hollamby, Director of Development and former Borough Architect, this is one of the most exceptional and progressive post-war social housing estates in the UK.
“From the mid-1950s, local authorities were encouraged to meet the high densities of housing required by building high rise tower blocks, but Hollamby was influential in the move away from this approach and at Cressingham Gardens sought to meet the required densities with low-rise developments.
“Designed to blend seamlessly into its setting with the adjacent Brockwell Park, the new homes were woven around existing mature trees and incorporated visual ‘green tongues’ from the park into the heart of the development. The 306 homes, built from London stock bricks, provided accommodation for households of one to six people, ranging from one-bedroom bungalows to four-storey houses, each with its own generous private outdoor space.
“They are set along a series of paved pedestrian walkways and paths that meet at a central ‘village green’. At the centre of the estate is a sunken Rotunda, designed by Hollamby as a children’s nursery.
“Residents and C20 have been fighting plans by Lambeth Council to redevelop the estate for nearly a decade. These came a step closer in December with a proposal to demolish 12 homes in Ropers Walk which C20 fears could presage the destruction of the entire estate.
“C20 supported a request from the Secretary of State to call-in the application for a public inquiry, but this was turned down. The very active residents’ campaign group Save Cressingham Gardens, which C20 has been supporting, is now raising funds to take legal action against the council.”
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