On a superficial level, the Heygate estate is not lovely. A series of exceptionally long blocks of flats in Elephant and Castle, south London, the facade is bare concrete on one side, with long strips of frosted glass on the outside walkways on the other.Sounds dreadful!
There's none of the imaginative, irregular detailing you'd find at the similarly endangered Robin Hood Gardens in Poplar, none of the dramatic multi-level futurism of Erno Goldfinger's work just opposite (Alexander Fleming House, now the Metro Central Heights luxury flat complex). Going past it on the number 188 bus, it's imposing, blank and massive.Mmmm, yeah, you really aren’t selling it to me!
And looking at the Wiki entry for it, I doubt you’ll be able to sell it to anyone else...
So why is it that residents of the estate are defending it against a regeneration scheme?Good question. Why do you think?
One answer might involve you getting off the bus and walking around the estate. Behind that long wall of concrete and glass is one of the greenest residential open spaces in central London, an oasis of quiet, trees and birdsong just yards from Elephant and Castle's two infernal roundabouts. The sound artist Will Montgomery used this space as material for an audio-visual project, where the surprising verdancy of the place was contrasted with images of the softening and weathering that nature has wreaked on the estate. World Communal Heritage, an international activist group from Serbia, has listed the Heygate's greenery as a perfect example of the free, open and public spaces absent in town planning since the 1980s.Oh, my!
Who could go against the evident wishes of a Serbian activist group, and knock down this
Capitalists, perhaps? Yup:
That sort of optimism is hard to find on the estate itself, with most residents "decanted", as the grotesque euphemistic phrase for "eviction" now has it, with those left offered derisory sums for large, Parker-Morris flats in the centre of London. Rather than glumly accepting their fate, residents are angry. As one resident put it: "That community has been decimated. It was so callous and I'm truly disgusted."I’m pretty disgusted every time I see the word ‘decimated’ misused…
Examples are all around of the miserable, yet grinning regeneration tat that awaits. Across the road from the Heygate is a nasty block clad in Trespa, a thin, tinny material used to make concrete frames enclosing tiny flats look bright and shiny; nearby is Strata, a flashy tower with three non-functional wind turbines at the top, aimed squarely at the luxury market.The luxury market that has been sold the concept of wind turbines as the magic bullet by…?
Ooooh, could it be ‘Guardian’ writers?
The Heygate, harsh as it may seem, treats its residents as adults and serves a much-needed social function: keeping low-income families in the centre of London.And just why is that considered a good thing?
We’ll never know. Just as we’ll never know where Owen lives. But like others who enthuse about architecture, bet it isn’t on the Heygate!