Tower Blocks

Lincoln Court, Bethune Road

The first tall blocks to come into the area were Rowley Gardens, on the border of Harringey, but the most prominent are Lincoln Court, in Bethune Road (1969). The drawing shows them from across the reservoir, which helps to mask their enormous bulk.

Flats like this have been the target of great criticism.

In the 1960's there was a serious housing problem. Many houses had been bombed. Many others were in need of repair or complete demolition. Large numbers of low-income families needed housing as rapidly as possible. Huge blocks of flats were seen as a rapid, factory-built, technological 'fix'. Parts could be built off-site and brought to the building on lorries; time and money would besaved. Things were not quite so simpleas that.

Huge flats in Hyde Park have uniformed caretakers at the door to forbid entry. Entry-phones to the individual flats help to make them safe. High temperatures in the flats prevent condensation and the build up of black mould on the walls. Good standards of repair and decoration, discourage vandalism. Lifts work. Tenants with second homes in the country, are content to do without a town garden. The money which makes the Hyde Park flats work, has not been there for many tower block tenants.

The blocks themselves were often expensive to build. They are so heavy that massive foundations are necesssary, especially on London Clay. Deep foundations, or the huge concrete rafts which allow such flats to float on the liquid clay, are extremely expensive. Because of this there was not much mney left over for adequate fixtures and fittings, so these were often skimped. Thirdly, many blocks were built with flat roofs.

These are a recipe or disaster in our changeable climate. The concrete slabs which form the roof, expand and contract. The asphalt laid on top to keep out the water, melts in summer and cracks in winter. Water seeps in and runs through the electric light fittings in the ceilings. In addition the hard, cold plaster used today tends to encourage moisture to condense and run down the walls. This can be prevented by keeping the room tempe rature high, but electricity is expensive. Instead, people tended to use the much cheaper paraffin stoves. Unfortunately both paraffin and North Sea gas produce water vapour as a by product of burning and this increases condenstion within the room. In Victorian novels people wore bonnets indoors and gentlemen put on their hats to go from one room to the next. People then expected to be cold in the winter.

Today people tend to keep their houses warmer than even only a few years ago. This leads to closed windows to reduce draughts, yet draughts are one way to reduce condensation. The still water vapor condenses on the cold outer walls of the house. There are no chimneys to create a natural flow of air, so mould grows on the damp walls.

Over twenty years ago I said, ' opinions have veered wildly about tall blocks. It will be interesting to see people think in twenty years time'.

I have had my answer. There were complaints from tenant groups up and down the country. A huge movement to demolish tower blocks grew so powerful that many have been demolished. People flocked to see them go, cheering and clapping. Blowing up tower blocks became television spectaculars and in place of the blocks low level housing has been built. Small, even cramped, but far more popular with most people.

Some blocks which were well built originally, such as the Goldfinger tower in Kensal Ri se, have been restored and are now desirable properties. This has involved building new pitched roofs, double glazing, entry phones to restrict entrance, concierge control at the door. Given these improvements, tower blocks can work. With ur ine stained lifts and insecurity and no money, they cannot.

Lincoln Court, Bethune Road W hat happened to it???

Woodberry Down:
A Cut-away Drawing

1934-1984: Fifty Years of Change

Updated: October 7, 2011