Sunday 13 February 2011

And Where Do You Live, Owen?

Owen Hatherley (author of ‘Militant Modernism’ and ‘A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain’) has a CiF column to whinge about the demolition of an ugly inner-city estate ghastly effect of modern progress:
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 monstrosity earthly paradise?

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!


Uncle Badger said...

Not for nothing is battery cage architecture known as 'Soviet style'.

It served a purpose far beyond keeping the proles out of the rain. It was a constant reminder of their place in the scheme of things, as defined by 'intellectuals' like the moron who wrote that piece.

Anonymous said...

Unemployed, useless people do not deserve to be housed this close to the capital. Why should a nurse have to live in Zone 4 because she cannot afford to get closer in?

SadButMadLad said...

I far as I can gather he lives or lived in East Greenwich.

Zaphod said...

I'm starting to accept the misuse of "decimate". It's real meaning isn't particularly useful. But on the other hand, there are already plenty of words for what people actually mean when they say, "decimate".

My pet hate is people using "jealous" when they mean "envious". Two good, useful words with different meanings, and not a lot of available substitutes.

Okay, while I'm at it. It's not "zoo-ology", it's "zoe-ology" Even the bloody zoologists pronounce it wrongly.

I'll get me coat.

Furor Teutonicus said...

Despite YEARS of hard work and protest by local conservation groups, the estate is still standing.

Ed Butt said...

I'm sure I heard the Michael Caine film Harry Brown was set in that area.
The population are as idyllic as the envirionment then.

JuliaM said...

" It was a constant reminder of their place in the scheme of things..."

This estate is definitely one I can't look at and say 'Well, it was probably nicer when new...'

"Why should a nurse have to live in Zone 4 because she cannot afford to get closer in?"

That was the problem Labour's 'affordable housing' police was supposed to prevent. Didn't work so well. did it?

"I'm starting to accept the misuse of "decimate"."

It's ubiquitous now, but it STILL grates with me...

"The population are as idyllic as the envirionment then."

Someone in the comments (probably modded into vapour now) pointed out that those idyllic green oases were where the nearby residents walked their pitbulls, and so the lawns were dotted with dog crap, and you'd be mad to walk there yourself...

Anonymous said...

The Heygate and the others like it should be raised to the ground. The decent, hard working families who have endure unimaginable conditions for years should be rehoused; the criminal scum put up in a secure 'Heygate' built in the outer Hebrides somewhere their pitbulls, bull terriers and aggressive Staffies put down and all the illegals rooted out and despatched to their places of origin. The place was a hell-hole for the 30 years I worked in SE London and still is. AFter making HArry Brown, Sir Michael Caine had some choice comments about his childhood area, not ever a 'nice' place but the present day.......

Dominic said...

IIRC (having read one of his books) he grew up in Southampton but now lives somewhere, yeah East/"North" Greenwich way.

Although the Heygate is indeed pretty unredeemable, some of his comments (elsewhere) about public-sector estate architecture are fair enough (appreciating its finer qualities, lamenting it subsequent neglect, both as buildings and as living places).

He is a somewhat unrepentent Marxist, however. Which possibly goes some way towards explaining his apparent fascination with brutal housing schemes on a large scale.

banned said...

The decimation of the language annoys me too, the other Roman word they misuse is cohort which used to be a small unit of Roman soldiers but now seems to mean partner in crime or opinion.