What Happened to Site 4 on page 186?
++Perhaps reproduce the map here
The Arlington Road Development1 2 3
In 1993 an area of land on Arlington Road, between Inverness Street and Jamestown Road, became available for housing. It had been the Camden Council vehicle testing centre and waste disposal site. Because of an unexpected change in the method of government funding, the building process had to be up and running within three months of the purchase of the site if it was to qualify for government funding under the previous rules. This is a very short planning time indeed but the result of all this intensive work is outstanding.
The Arlington Street development is a city design, showing what can be done with ‘brown field’ sites when there is a will. Following the clearance of the site, inspection pits, petrol interceptors, storage tanks and disused pipe work were removed. Because of the old obstructions, and the doubtful nature of the site, the buildings were built on piles. These were augured into the soil and ferro-concrete ground-beams cast to join their tops. It was expensive compared with normal foundations, adding perhaps ten per cent to the total cost, and this factor should be taken into account whenever the government is encouraging the use of brown-field sites in towns. Without it, builders will still find it cheaper to clamour for permission to build on the Green Belt.
The new buildings are designed for city living, echoing many of the traditional principles of the 18th century London square, but uncompromisingly modern in character. They are designed to high standards of design, heat efficiency and comfort, while still being cost effective. They are, in fact, not unlike the corner of a Georgian square turned inside out.
The three-storey, L-shaped block has a five-storey corner block and two other raised sections. There is also a four-storey villa block in the further corner of the site. These bold shapes give the buildings the same sort of monumentality found in, for example, Bedford Square. They give security, elegance and good proportions, but without the classical architectural details, so different from many other modern buildings, which are square hutches, tiny, with reach-me-down classical nonsense hooked on here and there.
Georgian squares solved the servant problem by putting them down in basements. These houses had sunken front areas leading to basement doors for servants and raised front doors, up flights of steps, for the householders and guests. Thus there was no need for gaps between the houses where an intruder could to slip through. The houses stand shoulder to shoulder and are very secure. The backs of the houses and the gardens are private and safe. In 1997 Jestico and Whiles, the architects, no longer had to separate servants from residents by giving them separate entrances and so had no need for sunken areas in front of the house. However, they used the same unbroken terrace construction as part of the inbuilt security. all entrance doorways are safely barred to all but tenants.
Part of the Arlington Road elevation, to show the classical proportions and sense
balance which controls the design, without the classical pediments and other
decorations so often pasted on modern speculative buildings.
The scheme provided 48 units comprising 19 one-bed flats, 12 two-bed flats, two two-bed maisonettes, seven three-bed houses and eight four-bed houses - a total of 100 bedrooms. By building right up to the pavement edge, the architects created a continuous outside wall and found room behind the houses for small private gardens, a landscaped central garden and some car parking, all inside the site and overlooked by dozens of windows.
There are only three entrances, one at the corner and one on each road. The two road entrances lead to small car parks, leaving the central garden area for the residents to enjoy. The Arlington Road exit from the courtyard has been placed exactly opposite the main entrance to Rowton House, with its handsome ceramic transport mural. This gives an unexpected richness to the exit from the courtyard and brings the older building in conjunction with the new.
The Entrance to Arlington House
Camden Gardens, at the side of Sainsbury’s.
Another Jestico-Whiles scheme
The canal bank opposite Camden Gardens had been empty for years. Several years ago the Gardens themselves were invaded by gypsies, who broke down the frail hedges and set up camp. It took months of legal battle to dislodge them. The gardens were then railed in to prevent further break-ins and replanted.
The canal bank site had been acquired by Camden Council in 1988 for the building of affordable rented housing. The Council split the site in two and asked two housing Associations, Community Housing Association (CHA) and Circle 31, each to develop one half. CHA had been formed in 1972 to develop and manage affordable rented housing for the London boroughs of Camden, Westminster, Islington and Hackney. CHA asked Jestico and Whiles, with whom they had worked before, to design some efficient, imaginative housing which would be comfortable to live in and pleasant to look at.
In Arlington Road, Jestico & Whiles had adopted a terraced style, creating what amounted to a Georgian square turned in on itself, built right up to the pavement and without the basements. In Camden Gardens the architects used another traditional form in a new manner. They built three modern versions of the large Victorian villa, such as one can see in, for example, in Adelaide Road, with low-pitched roofs and again in yellow brick. The ‘villas’ face Camden Gardens, while a separate terrace of houses backs on to the canal.
The Camden Gardens Site
Solving the Problems of the Site.
It was a difficult site, with a railway viaduct to one side, the canal on another, and a two-metre diameter storm drain which passes immediately below where the proposed houses were to be built. There were three listed trees which would add immeasurably to the maturity and attraction of the site, but presented a problem to both architects and builders during construction.
To bring rents down to reasonable levels, the site had to be developed to a higher density than had been planned originally. This called for very careful use of space. The architects built 27 dwellings, flats, maisonettes and houses, some for people with special needs. The villas face Camden Gardens, while the terrace backs on to the canal.
All the living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms are stacked one above the other. This has advantages in plumbing, aspect, and noise. Incidentally, it is exactly the opposite of the argument used for the ‘scissors type’ flats designed by Colin Jones, which I described in ‘The Growth of Muswell Hill’. There bedrooms and sitting rooms were stacked alternately one above the other, on the theory that they would be used at different times of day and so noise interference would be reduced. In fact, after nearly thirty years use, all the tenants have moved their sitting rooms to the south, facing the sun. So much for theory.
Access to most blocks of flats is dull, with no personality or spirit. In Camden Gardens the architects have built outside staircases with entrance at first floor level, but protected by double-height curved screens. This has turned the entrance spaces into conservatories, with character and personalities of their own. The quality of the building is high, in yellow brick, with a slightly recessed mortar joint. This gives a clean, attractive finish. On the side of the canal, in a most unpromising situation, the architects have enhanced the neighbourhood.
Community Housing Association
By 1999 CHA was twenty five years old and had won no fewer than eleven design awards. The Arlington Road development won a RIBA housing design award. The Camden Goods Yard estate of 200 homes won a 1997 Evening Standard Award. The Castlehaven Road development won yet another and so the story continued.
CHA commissioned architects to work with the grain of the local neighbourhoods, keeping to local building heights and using sympathetic materials. Their work blended with the buildings already familiar to everybody and so Camden Town has been almost invisibly improved.4 The buildings are unmistakably of their own time, modern and efficient, but without any shock of the new. Good manners in architecture is a subtle business. Perhaps the most difficult task was to build modern housing on the old Bedford Music Hall, among the terraces of Albert Street, yet it too was a most successful development.5
CHA converted redundant public houses into housing. Often having been boarded up and vandalized for years, they were brought back into use once more. Altogether, Camden Town was becoming an exemplar of urban renewal, but in 2011 the momentum has slowed to near stop. Perhaps the sites are used up but the need still exists.
- Heinz Richardson
- Architects’ Journal, 9 March, 1994
- Building, 22 Sept. 1995
- Camden Town Trust leaflet
- Ham & High Property Express, 13 March, 1998 and architect