“They thrived on the rapid turnover of acquaintances, the lack of involvement with others, and the total self-sufficiency of lives which, needing nothing, were never disappointed” JG Ballard, High-Rise

Join me in New Towns & High Rises, an exploratory walk at the vertical neighbourhoods of London’s East End and the Docklands, and the capital’s satellite New Towns. There, we will make a connection with the fascinating narrative of London’s urban transformation : from Victorian slum sprawls and wartime devastation, to post-war ambition and monumental Modernist rebirth. But we will also witness design failures, changing perceptions, and the betrayal of the powers that be : everything that brought about the decline of Britain’s Welfare State, and with it, the demise of New Towns and Council Estates as a model for future communities.

The New Towns & High Rises tour series revolves around 5 distinctive localities in and around Greater London : Thamesmead, Islington, Poplar, Stevenage, and Harlow. Each has its own distinctive character, history, and outlook – and each is also connected with the others through a strong undercurrent of Modernist principles and Welfare State aspiration. We will see why and how model plans were made, people believed, and townships thrived, failed and/or survived in the course of the past 70 years.

Thamesmead is a riverside community of 60.000 inhabitants. A backdrop for iconic films such as Clockwork Orange, Beautiful Thing and TV series Misfits, the iconic Brutalist estate is undergoing rapid transformation. We will traverse the humongous area, comprising high & low density blocks but also a beautiful natural reserve. And we will discuss the unbridled ambition, misguided planning, and nearly catastrophic failure of a model council estate that was once termed “The City of the Future”. Alongside fascinating Brutalist visuals, we will witness life going on and new hope emerging as Thamesmead continues to transform into the 21st century.

In this walk, I’ll introduce you to the social, political and architectural background of early 20th century London. We will visit Berthold Lubetkin’s significant works in Islington : the groundbreaking estates at Bevin Court, Spa Green, and Priory Green, as well as the majestic Finsbury Health Center. We will also view the Brutalist Camden Town Hall Annexe and Weston Rise estates near Kings Cross, the towers of Finsbury Estate and Turnpike House, and finish at the beautiful Golden Lane estates in Clerkenwell. Throughout the walk, we will be discussing the influence of the Modernist movement on London’s post-war urban regeneration.

This walk will take you to London’s Docklands, where we will explore Robin Hood Gardens, a landmark of the country’s New Brutalist aesthetic, and a controversial symbol of council estate design failure. It is now under demolition, so last chance to see it before it goes forever !  We will continue our visit towards Brownfield Estate, the housing showpiece for 1951’s Festival of Britain, as well as its Chrisp Street Market, Britain’s first pedestrian shopping area – both icons of post war urban regeneration, and stylistic examples of a new, futuristic way of living. We will then attempt a deep dive into the mind and persona of a true Brutalist architect – Erno Goldfinger, at the site of his breathtaking tower ensemble : The Balfron Tower, Carradale House and Glenkerry House.

Stevenage was the first of Britain’s New Towns, built after the end of WW2 to address the pressing need for high quality housing, and accommodate the overspill of London’s ever expanding population. The result was an astonishing Modernist town, planned to the last detail to offer the highest possible standard of living to its new residents. Industrial and retail zones, amenities, public art, recreation areas, and of course high quality housing promised a new, almost utopian way of life… a dream that turned into a nightmare for may of these towns in subsequent years. We will walk around Stevenage, hear the history of its ambitious master plan, and experience its astonishing New Town architecture.

Harlow was also among the first wave of post-war New Towns. Boasting Britain’s first pedestrian precinct, as well as the country’s first residential high rise, the town is a living showcase of ambitious Modernist design, as well as its failures.. Today Harlow displays a most excellent collection of Modern art in its streets : a visual feast of over 100 statues, sculptures and monuments by important artists such as Henry Moore, Auguste Rodin, William Mitchell, and Barbara Hepworth. We will walk through Harlow, take in its public art and Modernist style, discuss its post-war history and witness both the successes and failures of its planning as the town moves into the 21st century.

Book

Book your instance of New Towns & High Rises securely via Eventbrite by selecting the appropriate ticket.

Duration : between 3 and 4 hours

Includes : transport in private vehicle (Thamesmead, Stevenage or Harlow only), petrol & parking fees.

Doesn’t include : Public Transport (Poplar and Islington only, please bring an Oyster Card with sufficient credit). Meals or Drinks.

Please note : a minimum of 2 tickets booking is required. Do bring a friend, (or be generous). Refunds are ok up to 24 hours prior to the event up to the price of the tickets, however please note that Eventbrite’s booking fee is not refundable.

Please contact me via email at explore@explorabilia.co.uk  for bookings and information about New Towns & High Rises. Suggested days for these tour is Saturday or Sunday, however other dates are usually available on request

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