FROM SLUM TO GREEN OASIS

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We’ve seen Coronation Street from the classic TV series in the Granada TV studios and we’ve seen the real slums - still - very much present in Great Britain. The dirty and dilapidated brick facade fronts of low terraced houses embellish the 19th century stories about lost plans for decent housing for the working class. Long ago Friederich Engels wrote about the quantitative and qualitative huge housing problems, which still exist today.

Although Coronation Street from the classic TV series in the Granada TV studios was, the real slums - still - very much present in Great Britain. The dirty and dilapidated brick facade fronts of low terraced houses embellish the 19th century stories about lost plans for decent housing for the working class. Long ago Friederich Engels wrote about the quantitative and qualitative huge housing problems, which still exist today.
Although the hiring of committed architects for new buildings leads to a different type of architecture the houses remain small and the technical execution is miserable. This is shown clearly by the Project Green Triangle Lane in Birkenhead with 57 houses by the Dutch Biq. One resident interviewed stated it clearly: the architect has done a good job, but the contractor screwed up and the developer sanctioned the screw up.
Looking towards the present and away from 1840, one can see the mother of all garden suburbs: Port Sunlight, which was built by the enthusiastic manufacturer (Lever). There are 500 dwellings set in a dense 17 dwellings per hectare. The 25 architects who were involved were perfectly able to combine unity and diversity, the services for this village work and the condition is perfect including the beautiful lush greening despite the fact that management is no longer with the company. The houses are traded freely on the market, but the rules of the Owners Association have been so successful that the whole is still intact.
The developer “Urban Splash” has built a comparable and timely achievement in Salford. In the (at one time) notorious Langworthy project one can see the “Chimneypot Park” project. This project consists of 2.5 acres with 9 Victorian housing blocks in which 418 houses were transformed (new building behind an original façade) by Architect SKEDKM from Liverpool. The project has received numerous awards, both in the design phase and after completion, and rightly so. Dutch architects, who have employed the same methods for years, also applaud the success of the Chimneypot Park Project.

A number of things become evident when visiting the project for the first time. The facades are carefully maintained and look fabulous with their bright red brick, terra cotta ornamentation and small joints. On the slate covered roofs triangular vertical skylights, the only modern addition that is visible from the street. The skylights work wonderfully with the fresh old facades, partly because of the color palette of grays. This simple but very pregnant like bulges update and upgrade the street to the present quite affectively. Larger still is the surprising typological change that can be seen at the head of the blocks. The adjacent rear gardens with the well-known bric-a-brac have been replaced by structures for indoor parking. The dwellings above and their gardens extend over the indoor parking. In itself not new, but the way this operation is combined with the Victorian blocks and the quality of this green deck make it an almost shocking experience.
Now, one year after occupation, it all still looks like new except for the few cases that were not completed as planned. For example, instead of the (end) gables being finished in one solid colored stucco the white plaster was painted gray which when revealed the white plaster beneath. Individual additions are not visible, which is characteristic of Dutch housing; between the residential terraces, conceived by the designer, there are bamboo screens and large planters along the path and all have retained their original vegetation. This is not only due to the control the inhabitants have over these details, but also the great attention paid by the management. The houses are sold on leasehold land, the common areas and green (including rooftop gardens) are a joint management, the manager lives in the neighborhood and is also constantly visible. In conversations with this manager, the developer and the architect all indicated they were fully aware that this approach is crucial for maintaining the quality, especially at this high density. The houses were all sold on the day they hit the market! The price was £ 100,000, excluding ground rent and service charges.

What is also special compared to the Dutch situation is the interior, the livingdeck is on the first floor and the bedroom is downstairs. The peak has been designed to create spaciousness in the living (room) area.
In the original construction the plan was to keep only the original facades and to build behind them using a new standardized prefabricated package. The first test block remains unfinished showing the steel skeleton. The size differences proved to be so varied that a switch was made using the box in box construction while retaining the walls.
The use of materials and design of the interior is exceptional, especially in this price range: Corian countertops, sunken tubs in the prefabricated bathroom, glass railings inside and out, the ultra modern bathroom, beautiful open staircase, the tidy radiators, etc. Going beyond the spaciousness the small houses embody modern life, a quality that Dutch housing architects only dare of dreaming.

Conclusion: the prejudices about the sorry state of British housing can be adjusted. With Chimneypot Park the developer and architect demonstrated that it is, indeed, possible for small and high-density housing stock to be redeveloped with a very high quality with a feeling of a new collective, something sorely needed in these districts. Not only are an adequate design needed, but also a strong and committed management more than obvious, but also, then again, this is also certainly not common in the Netherlands.

 

translation: Leora Rosner