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Public Practice

September 10, 2018
by the gentle author

On Tuesday 18th September at 7:30pm, Finn Williams will be giving a talk at Leila’s Cafe hosted by the EAST END PRESERVATION SOCIETY, discussing the controversial role of council planners in shaping the urban environment in the East End and beyond.

Finn Williams is co-founder and CEO of PUBLIC PRACTICE, an initiative dedicated to inspiring a new generation of planners in local government, making places for the common good and improving the public sector’s capacity to deliver homes by sharing skills and knowledge between authorities.

Click here to book your free ticket

The Boudary Estate was Britain’s first eouncil estate, built in 1900 by London County Council

THE BUREAUCRAT & THE ACTIVIST, Finn Williams introduces Public Practice

“East London’s pioneering social housing, public parks, town halls, hospitals and public baths are memorials to an extraordinary history of municipal vision. The public sector has been behind many of the buildings and places that make the East End worth preserving.

But today, in debates over how London should change in the future, local government has found itself playing the role of the villain. Campaigns and headlines in response to the Grenfell tragedy, Haringey Development Vehicle, or Heygate Estate regeneration have placed the blame on the doorsteps of local boroughs.

At a wider scale, the former Prime Minister labelled “town hall officials who take forever with those planning decisions” as “enemies of enterprise.” Being a bureaucrat has become synonymous with being a boxticker, clockwatcher or jobsworth. ‘Top down’ local democracy is pitched against ‘bottom-up’ community activism.

Why have public servants become public enemies? And how can we rethink the relationship between councils and communities to place a new value on working in the public interest?

Localism promised a bigger society by making a smaller state. But as the effects of nearly a decade of cuts play out through our cities, it has become increasingly obvious that a healthy and inclusive civic society relies on healthy and outward-looking local government.”

Chrisp St Market by Fredrerick Gibberd was built as part of Lansbury Estate in 1951

Cranbrook Estate designed by Francis Skinner, Douglas Bailey & Berthold Lubetkin in 1963

Lister House, Whitechapel, designed by Ralph Smorczewski, 1956

Keeling House by Denys Lansdun in Bethnal Green, 1957

Sulkin House by Denys Lansdun, designed 1952/3 and built 1955/8 in Globetown

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The Founding of the East End Preservation Society

4 Responses leave one →
  1. September 10, 2018

    Very interesting.

  2. Malcolm permalink
    September 10, 2018

    None of these 50′s and 60′s monoliths has any architectural merit and wouldn’t be missed if they were demolished. The trouble is that they would only be replaced by something even worse and out of reach of the local people, who would be displaced to some far-distant sink estate, like the former residents of the Heygate Estate in Southwark. The Boundary Estate is an object lesson in housing that is designed with people in mind, rather than winning this year’s architectural prize. Modernity isn’t a bad thing but there are very few post-war housing projects in London that aren’t ugly or badly designed, or both. I went to school with a boy who lived in Sulkin House and I went there a few times. The problem is that it is facing the wrong way. The front is facing north and the design, which points all the front doors into a dark V shape, means that the kitchen, which is at the front, is always dark and you had to have the light on constantly. I imagine that they were positioned thus so that the balcony, which is accessible from the lounge, was south facing and therefore had the sun most of the day. Trevelyan House – just round the corner in Morpeth Street – is the sister block to Sulkin and is exactly the same.
    Whilst it is true that new housing was desperately needed in the immediate aftermath of the war, what we got was basically a copy of the Eastern Europe/Moscow model of monolithic structures made of fairly cheap materials. Today what we get is either cheaply made pre-fabricated monoliths that nobody can afford or ultra-expensive glass carbuncles in prime locations that only oligarchs, criminals or investment funds can afford. So much for civic amenities.

    We used to go up to the top of the Chrisp Street clock tower when we were kids, but I believe it’s closed now, probably because after years of neglect it has become unsafe.

  3. Andrea Kelly permalink
    September 10, 2018

    The effects of austerity and increasingly centralised government have been dire – we need to teach each generation to be uncompromisingly vigilant! See:

    https://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n24/tom-crewe/the-strange-death-of-municipal-england

  4. mlaiuppa permalink
    September 11, 2018

    Appreciation of architecture takes time. Sometimes longer for some.

    Unfortunately, sometimes buildings are demolished before they live long enough to be appreciated. We are reminded of that constantly when vintage photos are compared with what replaced a lost jewel.

    Everything can be saved. Just depends on how much time, effort and money you’re willing to dedicate to the task.

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