Heygate Abstracted by Simon Kennedy


Heygate Abstracted by Simon Kennedy

Bartlett lecturer and photographer Simon Kennedy has sent us his photographs of a deserted south London housing estate awaiting demolition.

Heygate Abstracted by Simon Kennedy

The photographs focus on the communal spaces in and around the run-down estate and were exhibited at the Bartlett School of Architecture last month.

Heygate Abstracted by Simon Kennedy

Images are © Simon Kennedy.

Heygate Abstracted by Simon Kennedy

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Here's some more information from architectural historian Ben Campkin:

The Heygate Estate in South London was completed in 1974. The estate now stands empty and awaiting demolition.

Heygate Abstracted by Simon Kennedy

635 x 508: Heygate Abstracted is a photographic installation, a result of numerous visits to the estate through 2010. A large format camera was used to photograph and re-photograph specific views and locations around the public areas of the estate. The spaces within the photographs were then analysed and augmented."

Heygate Abstracted by Simon Kennedy

‘There is another Modernism well worth rescuing from the dustbin of history and the blandishments of heritage . . . [T]he Left Modernisms of the 20th century continue to be useful: a potential index of ideas, successful or failed, tried, untried or broken on the wheel of the market or the state. Even in their ruinous condition, they can still offer a sense of possibility which decades of being told that ‘There is No Alternative’ has almost beaten out of us.’[Owen Hatherley, Militant Modernism, Winchest and Washington, Zero Books, 2008, p. 13.]

Heygate Abstracted by Simon Kennedy

Heygate Abstracted

Simon Kennedy’s photographs of the Heygate Estate prompt us to contemplate not the failure of modernism, but the failure of the failure of modernism, and the possibilities for reclaiming a mode of utopian urban thinking. In doing so they provide a visual elaboration of a prominent theme in contemporary architectural debate.

Heygate Abstracted by Simon Kennedy

At a time of acute shortage of affordable housing, the photographs make us question the validity of the decision by Southwark Council to demolish these buildings—are they essentially and irretrievably a failure?

Heygate Abstracted by Simon Kennedy

In their guide to the architecture of south London Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner struggle to make sense of the estate, built between 1968 and 1974. Clearly impressed by the visual impact of its slabs and the gargantuan social ambition of the London Borough of Southwark Architects’ scheme, they also categorise the Heygate as one of ‘the most notorious products of industrialised building’.[Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England. London 2: South, London, Penguin Books, 1983/2001, p. 562.]

Heygate Abstracted by Simon Kennedy

Few London locales have become so linked with postwar ‘modernism in ruins’ as the Elephant and Castle, a neighbourhood long stigmatised through an iconography of material and social ‘blight’ and ‘brutality’, an inner-city intersection with a vast stock of council housing, the physical deterioration of which attests to its being mostly by-passed, along with the area’s residents, by the wealth circulating in late-modern London.

Heygate Abstracted by Simon Kennedy

Kennedy’s photographs emphasise the consequences of the painfully protracted if not perpetual contemporary ‘regeneration’ process which has left homes and shops conspicuously vacant for years on end.

Heygate Abstracted by Simon Kennedy

They show an urban landscape of quasi-ruins, attractive to photographers and journalists through the spectacle of ‘sink’, to use the term Tony Blair problematically applied to the Heygate’s sister Aylesbury Estate, PR birthplace of New Labour government.

Heygate Abstracted by Simon Kennedy

Trained as an architect, Kennedy’s gaze fixes on the formal qualities of the estate’s exteriors and public spaces, selecting architectural moments, abstracting views and elevations, in a process that disassociates these buildings from their contentious histories, and any sense of domestic life.

Heygate Abstracted by Simon Kennedy

The result is that the photos capture something of the essence of the original blueprints. Yet an air of pathos pervades, emptiness is the striking feature of this catalogue of intended social spaces.

Heygate Abstracted by Simon Kennedy

These qualities have particular resonance now, of course, at a time of accelerated state withdrawal from housing provision, and changes to housing benefit policy that will force those on low-incomes towards the periphery of the city.

© Ben Campkin

Heygate Abstracted by Simon Kennedy

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Posted on Wednesday December 1st 2010 at 3:09 pm by Catherine Warmann. Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • perfect zombie-scenario!

  • morgan geist

    This is Morgan Geist.

    What a beautiful project.
    And further, kudos to dezeen for publishing outside the object and into the image.

    The images are expansive and reflexive, having the ability to put a finger on the pulse of the state of design and current political and economic climate more so than many design projects.


    morgan geist

  • Edward

    Is this where they filmed the terrifying film Harry Brown.. perfect setting for complete social melt down.

  • It is clearly a failure of property management not a failure of architecture. As in many other cases.

  • Abe

    Sorry I didn't make the exhibition Simon… beautiful photographs. Wasn't it a bit worrying walking around these estates with an expensive large format camera??

  • amsam

    Hmm… looks an awful lot like "the failure of modernism" to me.

    • Jon-Paul

      That's what I was thinking. I don't quite understand the "failure of failure" commentary.

      • Quinn

        I don't necessarily understand the 'failure of failure' commentary either, but perhaps it refers to the 'demolish and rebuild' rhetoric that fails to truly understand the root of social failure in these projects.

        These images are interesting to me, because they almost seem ambivalent in their portrayal of Modernist architecture – it is not clear if we are to judge the architecture itself as the root of social failure. While there are a couple of shots that focus on the unrelenting, brutal aesthetic, the majority seem downright human (despite the utter lack of human subjects). We see in these pictures hints that life was here just moments ago – personal belongings, children's play equipment, etc., suggesting that this housing estate was, in fact, a home for many people. Why then, is it necessary to demolish this place?

  • Congratulations, Simon! I would love to go, unfortunately it is a bit out of the way for me. Post pictures after the exhibition is over!

  • Phillips-Sinsua

    demolish? what a waste…refurbish retro should save this

  • Ars

    Wonderful images!

  • crem

    a place perfect for architects, i want to go to there!

  • JuiceMajor

    Thank you for posting this. I would defintely like to have a look before it goes down!

  • 3DDD

    Photographs are really good, but i need to admit the building in realty looks really awfull. Although i love modern architecture, I agree, that this should be demolished.

  • mmm

    It makes me strangely nostalgic. Very good photo's indeed.

  • For those interested in more architecture photo's please check my humble flickr set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/_o_o_o_/sets/7215762

  • filip

    strange, graffiti is missing…

  • JDC

    "At a time of acute shortage of affordable housing, the photographs make us question the validity of the decision by Southwark Council to demolish these buildings—are they essentially and irretrievably a failure?"

    Ask yourself a simpler question Ben: would you like to live there? I think not. This vile tumour served as incubator of countless miseries, and you would coolly play the pompous voyeur, barrio tour guide of an urban nightmare.

  • Grat shots, the misty atmosphere adds something to them. A very good and interesting work.