|Alexandra Road Estate||Camden|
Alexandra Road Estate was built on a 16 acre site, formerly part of the Eyre Estate developed in the late C19th. It is a large Council-owned and built housing estate, designed in the late 1960s and executed in the 1970s, with landscaping an important component of the scheme. Three long low-rise stepped terraces are integrated with landscaped gardens, walkways and terraces, the flats provided with balconies and window boxes. It was the first post-war housing estate to be listed, described in 1993 as 'one of the most distinguished groups of buildings produced in England since the second World War and of exceptional architectural interest.'
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Alexandra Road Estate, August 2002. Photo: S Williams
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Alexandra Road Estate is a large Council-owned and built housing estate, designed in the late 1960s and executed in the 1970s on a 16 acre site, formerly part of the Eyre Estate developed in the late C19th. The estate is bounded by the railway line to the north, Abbey Road to the west, Loudon Road to the east and Boundary Road and the Ainsworth Estate, built by the L.C.C. in the 1950s, to the south. Integrated landscaping of gardens, walkways and terraces were provided to serve the Estate, which consists of three long low-rise 'terraces' of residential flats on the site between the railway line and Boundary Road and adjoining the Ainsworth Estate, each flat with a balcony and trough window box. The first and second terraces face one another across a tree-lined 'street,' the second and third terraces overlooking centrally sited gardens. The gardens consist of a series of linked spaces and walkways on two levels giving access to flats and car parks, and including open 'viewing platform' terraces with seating and semi-exotic mixed planting in centrally placed square cement tubs, walkways lined and canopied with round trees, several children's playgrounds with built-in apparatus, a small secluded 'grove' on a slight rise enclosed by hedges and trees, and a circular grass amphitheatre. Although neglected in some areas much of the planting is flourishing, and the original intentions of the architects may be clearly appreciated.
The estate was designed and executed by Neave Brown of Camden's Architect's Department under Sydney Cook, Borough Architect, between c.1970-1978. Housing consist of three long curved stepped terraces running from west to east, the two northern-most facing each other across a tree-lined 'street' Rowley Way, and the shorter southern terrace facing onto Ainsworth Way. The main area of landscape garden incorporating playground areas is laid out in a ribbon between the second and third terraces, but minor landscape design features are integral to the entire design of the estate, with each flat in the terrace blocks having a built-in balcony trough or window box, with the intention that plants would cascade down the stepped face of the building at every level. A Play Centre at the western end of the estate and a school and youth club at the eastern end are linked by design to adjacent green areas or provided with planter troughs and beds. There are many changes of level, with some trees planted at ground-level in the under-storey of the complex having their tops on a level with the viewing platforms and walkways, and others grouped at different levels along the raised and landscaped ribbon at the centre of the estate.
Neave Brown's avowed intention was to base his designs on English terraced housing of the C18th and C19th, which he described as a flexible and repetitive system providing meaningful relationships between public and private space. The general concept of the landscaped areas and planting troughs and their design was his, with some amendments and advice on species and disposition of planting contributed by Janet Jack. Conversely, the platform roofs and viewing terraces which characterise many buildings on the estate, and the separate 'room-like' enclosures of the landscape garden are linked by Neave Brown to the concepts of the interlinked garden and palace designs of the Italian Baroque period.
At its eastern end the estate is entered from Loudon Road via Alexandra Place between a short arcade of shops, standing on a raised platform with walkway and planter trough balustrade, and a more conventionally designed block of housing and offices. The walkway leads to a raised viewing platform between school and reception centre, with access to the car park area at ground level below, with one centrally placed raised planting feature containing a mixture of semi-exotic trees and shrubs. To the east, on level with the street at the entrance to Rowley Way, are shops and a building feature designed as a public house, fronted by an open-air seating area overhung by large built in planter troughs, some containing small trees. To the north, Rowley Way leads between two stepped and curving terraces of low-rise flats, lined with small trees spaced at regular intervals. Each flat has its own individually maintained planter trough, but at street level larger planters, part of the publicly maintained landscape, fulfil the function of a barrier between public and private space for those flats at ground floor level.
The main area of landscape planting bisects the centre of the estate offering park-like views for the overlooking terraces on either side. A raised walkway runs along the southern side of this strip, canopied and hedged by trees and bushes in some areas, or zigzags between the separate divisions creating a maze-like effect and offering multiple views over the component parts of the estate and access routes to each separate area. The many different sections of this landscape were designed as 'rooms' or spaces, each delineated and separated from the other by its own screen of planting. At its eastern end the walkway overlooks two small playgrounds at ground level designed for younger children, and then leads on to a small open sloping grassy glade screened by trees, with bench seating, and a small copse of ornamental trees at its south eastern corner. The next division to the west is a more gently sloping island of short grass and trees set at a lower level, parallel with adjacent ground floor terraces on its northern side and providing them with a landscape setting and outlook. The walkway then leads to a highly complex area of two small separate but interlocking adventure playgrounds with built in equipment, screened from the adjacent terraces by thick planting, and leading on to a small circular grassy amphitheatre with a tiny 'stage' platform at the entry point on its eastern side. At its western end the landscaped area terminates in a fenced tarmac rectangular playground sited at ground level, with a small adventure play area set on the raised bank on its northern side, and a play centre building beyond partially set into a landscaped bank which gives access onto the building's flat roof on two levels, designed as a further extension of playing area.
Alexandra Estate was the first post-war housing estate to be listed (the three long terraces were listed Grade II* in 1993), and the youngest construction ever to be listed. At that time it was described as ' one of the most distinguished groups of buildings produced in England since the second World War and of exceptional architectural interest.' The estate was designated a Conservation Area in 1994.
In 1991 a tenant's housing association, the South Hampstead Housing Co-Op, was set up to manage the Alexander and Ainsworth Estates. The estate has been subject to inappropriate fabric repairs and neglect of the local authority-maintained landscape areas, while other landscape features designated as communal by the designers have been partitioned and annexed to the enclosures around individual flats. The landscape features are best preserved in the central garden-strip, and in the planter troughs and boxed around the eastern upper viewing platform; elsewhere some planters have been re-stocked with less appropriate 'bedding' plants, giving a suburban character. A request for additional recreational space for older children has lead to a suggestion that the circular grass amphitheatre, arguably one of the most attractive components of the central garden strip, may be filled and levelled off. All these concerns are currently being addressed by representatives of the S.H.H. Co-Op, Camden Council and English Heritage.
Candidate for Register: Catherine Croft, The Alexandra Road Estate and the Impact of Listing : Lessons for the Preservation of Post-War Mass Housing, B. Cons Thesis, A.A. Library, 1994. Documents including listing documents and conservation proposal documents in Alexandra Road Estate file, London Division, English Heritage. Information from Neave Brown, architect, 1994, and Catherine Croft, former Inspector for the LB Camden, English Heritage. Andrew Freear 'Alexandra Road: The Last Great Social Housing Project, AA Files, Autumn 1995 pp35-46; Alexandra Road Estate Management Guidelines (Levitt Bernstein for LB Camden, 2nd edition, January 2006)