Building Study: Bourne Estate, London, by Matthew Lloyd Architects

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Matthew Lloyd’s clever remodelling of an inner London estate shows the value of high-quality healthy communal space

For most people in Britain, the popular conception of a council estate probably remains a 1960s public housing development with tower blocks, deck access and prefabricated construction. While UK council housebuilding did indeed reach its historic peak just before this period under the Conservative government of the 1950s, as with so much of modern life, the council estate is actually a Victorian invention. 

Over the next two decades the Edwardians rapidly expanded this fledging prototype but what is truly extraordinary about these early estates is how radically different they are from their later modernist forms. The Grade II-listed Bourne Estate in Clerkenwell, central London is one of the best examples of this early type of social housing and it displays many of the features common to its genre. 

Classical in style with occasional arts and crafts flourishes, it incorporates red brick facades with rich stucco dressings, glazed brickwork, sash windows, double-height arches, decorative pediments, bay windows, exposed stairwells, sheltered courtyards with mature trees, a remarkable intimacy of scale and a clearly defined street presence. In many ways, the Bourne Estate and its scores of contemporaries are as much mansion block as they are council estate and share as many similarities with their 60s successors as a trolley bus does with a Tesla. 

But it is these unique characteristics that have formed the basis of Matthew Lloyd Architects’ ambitious £19m remodelling of part of the estate. The practice has built two new blocks, providing 75 residential units. The tenure and client are also significant: 45% of the new homes are for social rent with 43% private and 12% intermediate shared-ownership meaning that most of the new units maintain the social housing priorities of the overall estate. 

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