When one thinks about London's council housing, "innovative" and "beautiful" aren't necessarily the first words that spring to mind. Indeed, one could be forgiven for believing the fallacy that council housing is somewhat "unprepossessing" and "decrepit", since this is so often how it is depicted and described. However, this needn't be and isn’t always the case. Jack Young's excellent new book 'The Council House' succeeds in breaking this stereotype. The book skilfully illustrates the beauty of London's council housing landscape and impresses upon us the need to appreciate these buildings and aspects of their modernist architecture which reflect a precise period of time.
After the First World War, there was an enormous demand for housing. The 1919 Addison Act attempted to meet this demand by providing government subsidies to finance the construction of half a million houses within three years. Whilst that target was not achieved, the Act nevertheless remains a noteworthy piece of legislature, highlighting housing needs as a national responsibility. It is also exactly the type of council houses that were built during this post war era that Young details in his book. These buildings incorporated new, exciting and unusual designs that went against the traditional design norms at the time.
One only needs to look at the iconic Trellick Tower, Sivill House and Brunswick Centre as evidence of this (to name but a few). Yet, today, we seldom see new council projects which realise the importance of architectural design in the enjoyment of one's home and community.
Be that as it may, due to the housing crisis and corresponding challenges, together with the ostensible popularity of affordable housing schemes and the commendable desire to make spaces more sustainable, council housing construction hasn't returned to its post-war pre-eminence. Instead, new-build affordable housing has taken centre stage. Young's book nevertheless asks that we re-evaluate the way in which we view these old council housing structures, taking note of and celebrating their character, rather than perpetuating the negative stereotypes that surround them.
"Hopefully, in time, we can begin to restore some of the rightful pride that was once felt towards council housing "
Not only should we restore pride in the design and development of council housing estates but, hopefully, future council housing projects and developers take as much heed of architectural importance as those before them. Housing policy and unique architectural design are not mutually exclusive concepts.