I like to think of The Golden Lane Estate as the Barbican’s smaller, more colourful and friendlier neighbour.
It lies on the northern edge of the City of London, an area that was badly bombed during WWII.
In 1950 there were only about 500 residents left in the City of London, so building new homes was a priority. The City ran an open design competition which was eventually won by Geoffrey Powell, who teamed up with Peter Chamberlin and Christopher Bon – all lecturers at the Kingston School of Architecture , to work on the project. (The partnership Chamberlin, Powell & Bon then went on to design the Barbican).
Of the 554 homes 359 are studios or one-bed flats, including all of the properties in Golden Lane’s centrepiece, Great Arthur House.
Here’s a picture when it was nearing completion.
And here is a fantastic promotional video ‘Look at Life’ (note the lack of health & safety).
Although I’ve passed the estate countless times, I visited properly for the first time last weekend as part of a Twentieth Century Society event, held together with John Robertson Architects, the practice responsible for the re-cladding of Great Arthur House. More of that later on.
Approaching from Goswell Road, the edge of the estate curves around towards the City of London (first image above). The bottom is occupied by a series of shops with some very sweet frontages.
Around the corner to the left is the view into the estate.
To the right is the estate’s own little pub, The Shakespeare
The estate itself is 60% open space, and it is one of the large open areas you walk into with Great Arthur House right in front of you.
Now at this point I was lucky enough to visit my blogging colleague Stefi Orazi (check out her awesome blog Modernist Estates!, who lives in a studio flat in Cullum Welch House.
The view from her flat is glorious – out over the open space to the Barbican towers. And for those of you wondering, those concrete cylinders sticking out of the ground are light wells for the car park underneath.
What’s really lovely about the estate is that it isn’t just housing. There are tennis courts, a swimming pool (renovated two years ago) and a community hall where you can have a wedding, all alongside a series of well though-out spaces to relax or hang out.
Walking around you see the maisonette blocks, panelled in different primary colours – blue, red and yellow for the tower. At the time of construction these would have been much brighter than they look today.
Then it was time to visit Great Arthur House. The roof garden, a beautiful, tranquil space in the middle of London, is now closed for health & safety reasons, but we were lucky enough to be allowed up there.
Originally residents could have rode in the lift to the roof, now it’s accessed via a staircase from the 15th floor.
The design of the flourishing ‘quiff’ of the roof and its flamboyant arches echoe that of Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation. And what a fabulous view – the Barbican, City, St Paul’s, Clerknewell, Islington…
There’s even a little pond with stepping stones.
After soaking up the atmosphere, it was back down to earth via two flats.
Every floor has eight flats. The outer two on each floor come with an extra storage cupboard, the inner four have a separate storage cupboard next to the lifts.
Here is Joan’s flat – thank you Joan for being so welcoming and letting me take photos!
And here is a rather more modern flat.
Finally, it’s worth saying that Great Arthur House is about to be re-clad. The original windows are draughty and in general the facade needs an overhaul. Over the years the original back-painted yellow glass panels have been replaced with a plethora of different varieties of material and shades of colour.
John Robertson Architects has been tasked with this sensitive work and has come up with a panel-based system to replace the existing facade. Work is due to start later in 2014.
Want to visit the Golden Lane Estate?
Nearest tube: Barbican