“A Home for All: Six Experiments in Social Housing” at Victoria and Albert Museum

The challenge of providing housing for all is one that has faced governments and architects for over a century. This display presents six innovative projects from the collections of the RIBA and the V&A, each demonstrating a unique experiment in social housing design, providing lessons for today.


Keeling House, Claredale Street, Bethnal Green, London: detail of base of cluster block © RIBA Collections


Keeling House / Denys Lasdun & Partners. Constructed 1954-59, London. Keeling House was an early experiment in ‘cluster block’ housing. This innovative form placed four 16 storey blocks around a free-standing services tower. The linked blocks were designed to balance the existing community of the street with a sense of seclusion. Privacy was achieved with short access balconies that serve only two flats and face each other at oblique angles. The shared central platforms provided the communal services such as laundry.


Practical information

“A Home for All: Six Experiments in Social Housing”
24 November, 2018 – 30 June, 2019
Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Rd, London SW7 2RL
United Kingdom


Spa Green / Tecton. Constructed 1946-49, London. This estate was one of the first examples in England of Modernist architecture used for social housing, conceived using principles of health and hygiene. The 126 flats span the width of each block, providing sunlight, air and views on both sides. Bedrooms overlook a quiet courtyard while the living spaces are situated on the street side. An innovative aerofoil-shaped roof was designed to accelerate wind-flow for drying laundry. It was radically generous social housing for its time.


Drawings for publication of the Spa Green Estate, Rosebery Avenue, Finsbury, London: front elevation of 8-storey block (balcony side) © RIBA Collections

Spa Green Estate, Rosebery Avenue, Finsbury, London: study for alternative elevation © RIBA Collections


Byker Estate /Ralph Erskine Arkitektkontor. Constructed 1969-82, Newcastle. The Byker Estate is an ambitious example of participatory design that involved extensive consultation with existing residents. The architect set up his office on site, where future residents could drop in to examine the plans and discuss the project. The estate replaced a neighborhood of terraces, which were demolished and replaced in stages to enable neighbors and families to be re-housed together. The estate was a clear break from concrete modernism that had come to define post-war social housing and remains a striking example of an estate embodying the complexity of a community.


Designs for the Claredale Street estate, Bethnal Green, London: section showing residents on the 12th and 13th floor balcony areas of Block A1 (Keeling House) © RIBA Collections

Alexandra Road Estate, Camden, London: the pedestrian street between blocks A and B looking north-east © RIBA Collections

Alexandra Road Estate / Neave Brown. Constructed 1968-78, London. The Alexandra Road Estate is a pioneering example of high-density, low-rise housing. Neave Brown was vehemently opposed to high-rise residential towers and instead proposed a ‘social street’ for this awkward site alongside a railway line. This shared street encourages a convivial sense of community neighborliness and belonging.


Alexandra Road Estate, Camden, London, seen from the Euston railway line © RIBA Collections

Primary Support Structure and Housing Assembly Kits (PSSHAK) / Greater London Council Architects’ Department. Constructed 1971-79, London. PSSHAK began as a student project at the Architectural Association in the late 1960s. The architects developed a flexible design process which enabled occupants to play an active part in the design of their homes. Each block was a shell that could be sub-divided to contain different combinations of individual dwellings. Each tenant was invited to design their layout with help from the architects and an instruction manual.


Keeling House, Claredale Street, Bethnal Green, London © RIBA Collections


Lions Green Road / Mary Duggan Architects 2017- ongoing, London. This project was commissioned by Croydon Council’s development company, Brick by Brick, and represents both a renaissance and a new direction in council-led social housing provision. The design imagines residential blocks as sculptural pavilions within a natural landscape -offering access to views, air and light. Each block has a mixed tenure of private and social residents with the landscape given over to communal activities, blurring boundaries between private residence, shared space and publicly accessible parkland.


Lions Green Road / Mary Duggan Architects © RIBA Collections


News source: Victoria and Albert Museum
Subscribe here to get weekly updates about architecture events and exhibitions.