I cycled to the North West of Regent’s Park, in search of the Alexandra Road Estate. This estate is a truly astonishing work, testament to the vision and social ideals of the Camden councillors and architects who made it happen.
I cycled past the large and stately houses of Queens Grove, Marlborough Road, Loudoun Road, going north, uphill. I went left on Boundary Road, which is the north edge of Westminster and the south Edge of Camden. There on the right I glimpsed brutalist concrete. This is it. But the side road I followed, Rowley Way, led downwards into a disappointing loading bay, with barriers, delivery drivers and much disorganised parking. It was hot, and I’d cycled what felt like a long way. Then I remembered that this was a 1960s development. There must be a podium level, above the cars. There was. I looked for, and found, the slope upwards.
At the top of the slope was another world. A long village street led into the distance, with tranquillity, with greenery, and with concrete benches. People walked about immersed in conversation, leading children. Two lads sat on a bench, chatting and looking at their feet. Everywhere, there were trees, bushes and flowers. The street was tiled with red terracotta tiles. Each side the flats sloped up, looking irregular, like houses I have seen built into the hill in Crete.
I walked all along the tiled street, pushing my bike. There were concrete benches, but from those the view would give directly onto someone’s home, so I didn’t feel that would be good manners to sit down and draw there. Many features I recognised as typically 1960s: wood-marked concrete, thick iron railings, slabs of exposed concrete, round stairwells. The flats were all interlocked, so it was not clear where one flat started and the next stopped. It was most intriguing architecture. There were ledges, and low doors, gardens on ledges, and stairways climbing high up right to the roof.
At the end of the street, there was a small tiled public area, with a tree, and a viewpoint, and more concrete benches. Here I had a view of the end of the terrace of flats.
I particularly enjoyed the way that the architect had made that walkway protrude at the end of the block, to provide a viewpoint, a special place. I didn’t go up there. To the north, there were the tall monoliths of tower blocks. Trains rumbled. The railway line is immediately behind the terrace I was drawing.
The architect of the Alexandra Road Estate was Neave Brown, of the Camden Architecture Department. It was designed in 1968 and built 1972-78. The construction was controversial. Inflation was 20% at times in the seventies, and so costs went up. Neave Brown fought hard to complete the scheme, and he prevailed.
There is a wonderful description of the estate and its history on the Municipal Dreams website on this link:
Here are maps showing where it is, click to enlarge.
Here is work in progress on the drawing:
Here is the map on the entrance to the estate. Click to enlarge it.
2 thoughts on “Alexandra Road Estate, Camden”
Loved this – but then again I love brutal 1960’s architecture (and as you live in Barbican I guess you must also?). It’s a shame that many such developments have a bad reputation (mainly because they are social housing – Barbican may be an exception lol) when in truth they are great examples of visionary architecture and social experiments.
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I found the Alexandra Road Estate hugely impressive, not only because of the architecture, but because of the way that people were evidently using and enjoying the place: walking, chatting, children playing, young people on bikes, washing on balconies, plants, flowerpots – all very human.
The history of Alexandra Road on the “Municipal Dreams” website is well worth a read (link in my blog post).
It is inspirational, the way the archtitect persisted, and got the development funded through the 1970s. We all know how difficult it is to get projects through to completion in the teeth of funding problems.
This is not the only estate where the administrators, councillors and architects were genuinely trying to create places worth living in: it was also the case in the less well known tower block estates in Finsbury. They tried to think about how people would interact with each other, and gave informal spaces and shared facilities for this to happen.
Many thanks indeed for your encouraging comments. I hope you’re well and enjoying where you are living.
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