Friday, June 19, 2009

Behind the Privet Hedges: Utopia

Ambushed by improbable brilliance in the more genteel areas of South-East London. One quirk of the SE is that it's far easier to get to east or central London than from one end of the south to the other - I could get to Cockfosters from where I live in east Greenwich with greater ease than I can to Brixton. So this morning I was in Forest Hill, unusually. This is the first time I've been out this way, despite my decade of residence in the capital, so I took the opportunity to see the Horniman Museum, which is a fantastically odd bit of Anglicised Art Nouveau, although the cabinets of curiosities inside were marred somewhat by what seemed like a continuous loop of screaming children. Regardless, in the grounds the one thing that stood out, an outrageous pair of futurist cruisers looming over the hill's teeming verdancy - this:

I had seen these buildings in Meades' Remember the Future and vaguely intended to eventually find them, but there is absolutely no substitute for actually visiting the place. Stuck amidst entirely forgettable if decidedly leafy suburban streets, sometimes you see the block and sometimes it's hidden by the privet hedges, so finding it involved a game of brutalist hide-and-seek where first you could be in darkest Penge, and then the future whacks your over the head. When you finally find the way in, up a slim suburban passage, there is the greatest view over London I've ever seen, and two absolutely enormous deck-access blocks, a series of stock-brick polygons arranged into intricate, abstract patterns, rising up to views from the top which must surely be impossible to encompass without fainting - the place suggesting an entire city in its complexity, and an utterly driven mind in its relentless, rectilinear consistency. A bit of research reveals the place was designed by one Kate Mackintosh for Southwark Council in 1968, when she was apparently 26. It's unlisted, quiet, entirely obscure, and absolutely gobsmacking.

Pic via here, and more here.


Anonymous Mark said...

I remember these being built. Originally there was nothing but open scrub land on top of the hill. In a fit of long since dead Labour civic pride the estate was named after the previous mayor. Construction took so long that it may have been initiated via the then borough of Camberwell before it was merged with Southwark. The builders spent longer piling the hill to support the massive weight of the blocks than they actually took to construct the above ground structure. The whole hill is somewhat unstable and prone to subsidence. Most of the houses on the same side of the hill share similar spectacular views across London.

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