Dunboyne Road Estate, Camden
Description: Dunboyne Road Estate
Date Listed: 9 August 2010
English Heritage Building ID: 502599
OS Grid Reference: TQ2775785346
OS Grid Coordinates: 527757, 185346
Latitude/Longitude: 51.5525, -0.1587
Location: Kingsford Street, Camden Town, Greater London NW3 2YY
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798-1/0/10351 DUNBOYNE ROAD
09-AUG-10 Dunboyne Road Estate
Public housing, 1971-77, to designs of 1966 by Neave Brown of the London Borough of Camden's Architects' Department. Minor later alterations.
PLAN: seventy-one dwellings (a mixture of three-bedroom maisonettes, two-bedroom maisonettes and one-bedroom flats) arranged in three parallel blocks on a rectangular site. The slight drop in the land level to the east of the site allows an additional storey in the easternmost block; the other two are three-storey at most. The easternmost and middle blocks face each other and overlook a shared paved deck, open to the ends, beneath which is an underground car park. The third block overlooks a second communal deck and the rear elevation of the middle block. Light wells with concrete parapets are punched through the decks, providing light and security to the car parks below.
Each block has a stepped section, bisected at ground floor level by a long passageway providing access to the front doors of the lower dwellings; a walkway at second storey level accesses the upper dwellings and shared roof gardens, the latter included to encourage communality. Each front door has direct access from the public walkways, something Neave Brown emphasised as a benefit of the scheme, in contrast to the shared entrances in contemporary tower blocks. There is a large concrete ramp to the north of the site which provides access to the upper walkways. It was part of an unrealised scheme of the 1960s to link the Dunboyne Road Estate with other newly-developed estates on the other side of Southampton Road and includes a sculptural concrete spiral staircase with expressed formwork. At the south side of the estate, concrete stairs with timber balustrades are incorporated into the main blocks and provide access to the upper levels walkways and the passageways.
EXTERIOR: The aesthetic is modernist in materials, detail and overall form. The houses are built with concrete block work, rendered externally and fair-faced internally. In contrast, windows, doors, balcony fronts and fences are in dark-stained timber. The internal elevations, overlooking the decks, are characterised by large picture frame windows and the long horizontals of the balcony fronts and fences, interspersed with straight flights of dark-stained timber steps leading from balcony to garden. The stepped section and the diagonal form of the steps prefigure the Alexandra Road Estate of 1972-78 at Rowley Way (Grade II*), where the latter were constructed in concrete and ran almost the full height of elevations (there being no alley-access there). On the street facing elevations, by contrast, the fenestration is narrow, with inverted L-shaped windows on the top floor and a band of low windows interspersed with taller casements below; the both became hallmark motifs of the Camden Architects' Department style, and was adopted by Alan Benson and Gordon Forsyth, protégés of Neave Brown, at the Branch Hill Estate, Hampstead. In the passageways, the concrete is board-marked, an attention to detail which enlivens these tunnel-like thoroughfares. The concrete of the north ramp, stair and gangway is also exposed, and has rough-sawn board-marks and chamfers.
INTERIOR: In the two-bedroom houses the front door leads to the hall and kitchen, with a sitting room / study on a split level. The picture frame window of the sitting room / study area leads onto a paved terrace. From the hall, steps go down to the bedrooms (which open out onto a small courtyard overlooked by the upstairs balcony). One maisonette of the three inspected retained the majority of its original features. These include: a tiled concrete shelf, timber cupboards and drawers in the kitchen; stairs to the split-level living areas with a balustrade and a broad shelf dividing the upper and lower levels; a sliding partition between the living area and study; a glazed stairwell to the main stairs; storey-height doors; and built-in storage cupboards. Other residences may retain all or some of these features. Throughout the estate, all the window joinery survives and a number of original front doors.
HISTORY: The initial brief for the site, originally Victorian terraced houses, was for a mixed development comprising a youth club, a pub, two shops and high-rise tower housing, alongside a main pedestrian route linking with the other side of Southampton Road. Camden's Borough Architect, Sydney Cook, however, refused to build the tower blocks favoured by other local authorities (not a single one was built during his tenure) and shunned standardised plans and industrial building techniques. Instead, Cooke encouraged architect Neave Brown, who had recently joined the Department having designed a row of five houses (including his own) at Winscombe Street in the east of the Borough, to draw up plans for Dunboyne Road. The Winscombe Street scheme had been financed by Camden, via a housing association, and here Brown developed a model for low-rise, high-density housing which found favour with Cooke. The Dunboyne Road estate was the first application of the concept to a large site, with strict person-per-acre quotas, and alongside other community buildings (although the pub and youth club were never constructed). With the Dunboyne Road scheme, and its ambitious successor at Alexandra Road, a distinct 'Camden style' emerged from the Council's Architects' Department. As Building magazine put it in 1980 '[Camden] represented a faith in an architectural idea and confidence in an individual architect not often found in local authority offices'. Another commentator attributed this distinctiveness to the borough's location, describing Camden as 'the council most prone to visible influence from the fashionable fancies of the architecture schools around its southern extremity (Bartlett, Central Poly, Architectural Association)'. The Estate was built using direct labour, i.e. not tendered to subcontractors, hence the considerable duration of construction time, and was part of the wider redevelopment of Gospel Oak. Opposite are two point blocks built 1960-3 by the borough of Hampstead (before local government changes merged it into the larger borough of Camden), part of the same programme, but showing what Camden came to reject, as the recent Buildings of England volume put it.
Dunboyne Road Estate is unreservedly modernist: both in style (concrete construction, for example and geometric layout and composition) and in its communitarian ethos (non-hierarchical dwellings and shared gardens). It had Continental precursors such as the Halen Estate of 1957-61 in Bern by Atelier 5 and a house of 1927 by Mart Stam on the Weissenhof Estate in Stuttgart, both of which are derived from Le Corbusier's Rob et Roq project of 1948. Yet alongside this modernist pedigree, Dunboyne Road also drew on another architectural tradition. As Brown himself described in 1978, the scheme aimed to be "new buildings that 'belong', appropriate in scale and texture, and related to two traditions that I do not find incompatible: that of the immediate past (selectively) of the Modern Movement, and that of an older formal tradition of English Housing that is architecturally informed". His own analysis of the Estate considered it to be 'one of a number of schemes at that time exploring ways where new amenities within the house could be set in a context which recognised the traditional social and physical form and virtues of the city, and try to improve on them'. Inspired by anthropological studies such as Yorke and Marshall's Family and Kinship in East London, architects in the 1960s were exploring the idea of the street as centre of community life. For some, like Peter and Alison Smithson, this led to the concept of 'streets in the sky'; wide decks to multi-storey blocks, as seen at Park Hill Estate, Sheffield. For others, and Neave Brown especially, it was less the street and more the idea of terraced housing that was the essential ingredient for fostering community spirit and collective values. By the time Dunboyne Road Estate was completed in 1977, after the Ronan Point disaster had discredited 'system building' and tower blocks, and the backlash against wholesale demolition of historic neighbourhoods was in full swing, such ideas had become fairly orthodox. When the plans were first drawn up in 1966, they were avant-garde in Britain.
SOURCES: 'Neave Brown's Fleet Road: the evolution of a social concept of housing' including 'A Critique by Edward Jones' in Architectural Design (8 September 1978) pp523-6
Reyner Banham, 'Hanging gardens, NW' in New Society (21 September 1978) pp634-635
Dennis Sharp 'Controversy in Camden' Building (25 April 1980) pp38-43
Neave Brown 'Fleet Road' in A&U (November 1980) pp4-9, p31
Jan Dirk Peerebom Voller and Frank Wintermans, 'Idealism versus dialectic in social housing of the '60s: Neave Brown in London and Aldo Rossi in Milan' in Wonen-TA/BK (1980) pp11-27
Jean-Luc Arnaud and David Mangin 'The 'terraces' of Camden: or the making of an English town: 1964-1984: 20 years of work by a London architecture department' in Architecture d'aujourd'hui (September 1984) pp2-13
Camden's public housing of the 1970s', Notes from a Twentieth Century Society walk (23 June 2001)
B Cherry and N Pevsner, Buildings of England, London 4: North, 1998
REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: Dunboyne Road Estate is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* one of the first applications of low-rise, complex-section planning to a local authority housing estate;
* the precursor to Grade II* listed Alexandra Road Estate and other Camden housing estates in the 1960s and 1970s;
* the strict geometry of the bright white concrete blocks is an effective foil to the organic, individually-planted gardens, as the architect intended;
* strong modernist aesthetic where the simple, bold overall composition belies the complexity of the stepped-section plan and dual-aspect residences.
This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.