Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Packington Estate

A curiosity in Islington: the Packington Estate.

I've been past this quite estate a few times, and since it is currently being demolished I thought I would grab a couple of images of it, because there's some strange things going on architecturally. First off is that it's a rather overt example of panel construction. The system used was the Wates system, and here you can see the simplicity of the large panels (in a strange, burgundy hue) and the various sketchy points where they were sealed together. Many of the systems from back around the 1960s (This estate was finished around 1970, designed by Harry Moncrief) worked with a mixture of pre-fab and in-situ concrete - the panels would be hoisted into place, and small areas where the walls and floors met would be cast on site. A lot of problems of the system built blocks were located at these points, the hasty and frequently negligent construction methods leading to cold-bridging and all sorts of issues. I have no idea how the Packington Estate performed, although the fact that it lasted this long means it probably wasn't terribly built.

It's not pretty, to be honest, although the design does accommodate quite large windows. It's a series of what are presumably maisonette blocks judging by the alternation of the deck access balconies (which, like on so many estates, used to link all of the blocks together). But look closely, there's something really odd going on.

Because the Packington has managed to pick up all manner of strange postmodern encrustations.

Worked on from 1989-94, the estate was refurbished by David Ford Associates and Islington Council Architect's Department. The additions are a perfect example of 'council pomo' - noddy hat roofs, that odd mix of yellow, red and blue brick, and a rather silly, jolly classicism. Aesthetically it's very much of the period of Thatcherite reaction, although it's an ameliorative style; the architects had little choice but to work within a certain neo-vernacular framework, but they're trying not to be too cocky or brash about it; there's no polished granite, for example.

You can see the interventions reasonably clearly here - pagodas, baubles, new vertical circulation cores,    and a district housing office. Behind you can see part of the estate's redevelopment, which strangely for London includes houses specifically built to accommodate the people who currently live on the estate, which is remarkable considering how terrible the housing situation is becoming in London, especially remarkable considering the unbelievably sickening scandal down at the Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle.

Can't really say much positive about the shopping arcade really, it's pretty nondescript, although it's obviously been deliberately run down as part of the redevelopment. One frequent complaint about post-war housing estates is the lack of amenities, but in many cases this doesn't ring true. Many estates had perfectly adequate sets of shops built to go with them, along with community facilities. But one thing that doesn't quite offer is, how should I say, glamour. We might look with a smile on the signage and design of 1960s bakers and grocers, but retail has come quite a long way since then, and the out-of-town shopping centre was such a massive social development in the 1980s that everyone became used to that mode.

But at this stage in commercial history, the small independent retailer has enjoyed a certain renaissance, at least in areas with a sizeable middle class. Considering that some of the more lush parts of Islington are just around the corner, can we imagine a situation where some organic deli took over one of the shops here? Personally I can't think of a single Aussie coffee shop located in a post war modernist shopping unit, just as I can't think of any estate pubs which have been hipsterified. Why might this be?

The blandness of the shopping centre was lightly decorated by a rather charming little mural showing off the plan of the estate, enlivening one wall, even if it had been mostly hidden by the bins.

And here you see the panel construction itself - note how skinny the panels actually are. You can see the thickness of the roof, which is insulated, so I expect that the block extended further past this visible bay. Soon there won't be any of these kinds of buildings left at all, as all the last remnants of the quotidian architecture of the post-war era seem to be on their way out; in the way of redevelopment, their styles and tenure out of favour, they are vanishing in much the same way that the most neglected of the slum housing of the Victorian era vanished.

And this, the housing office, good grief. There's a lot of this architecture around, the naff, post-CZWG pomo which dominated before the New Labour pseudo-modernist style took off. This is just inept, really; the rotunda, the awkwardly angled, badly detailed roof, the banding on the brickwork, it's so half-hearted, so inane...

Well, it's hardly of serious interest, the Packington Estate. But at least those who still live here (and there are lots still here) are not going to be scattered across the country when the redevelopment is finished, like is happening in so many other places.

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