Estates Of Mind

By Ian Darby, Roving Journalist

If you passed the old ’shoe world’ shop in Chrisp Street market recently you may have been surprised to find that it had been transformed into a picture gallery. Seems strange, but with a closer look you would have discovered a treasure trove of photos depicting Housing Estates both in Poplar and further afield. The photos -both in black and white and colour- highlighted designs in housing from the heyday of Social Housing Architecture. Some examples that are still standing and some no longer with us and others whose fate still hangs in the balance.

Estates of Mind (Designs for Living) brings together six photographers to explore various social housing projects from the 1960’s and 70’s era of radical architectural determinism and social reconstruction and asks… ‘What can we learn today, in a time of great uncertainty in social housing, from their successes and failures’? I had a chat with Vivienne Lewis, Michael Mulcahy and Mike Seaborne three of the photographers taking part in the exhibition.

So what is the point of the exhibition?

Vivienne explained that for her it was a record of the best Local Authority estate from the 60’s and 70’s – a highpoint of council house building in Britain they were designed as good places for the people that lived in them with lots of open space to live in. Michael told me that it was designed to explore designs in social housing and hold up a mirror for the local community about what is happing in social housing now

So why hold it in Chrisp Street Market?

We could have had the exhibition in Shoreditch and we would have had an audience of other photographers and artists but here local people have come in and spoken to us about the picture – it’s a great place to get residence involved with the issues around social housing in the past and the future

What are your favourite places in poplar and east London?

Michael – who has always lived locally, told me his was Balfron Tower. It inspired him at an early age to have an interest in architecture Mike was a little more widespread highlighting the variety of features in East London such as the canal footbridges around Bow Locks. Vivienne told me she admired the ideas store and all the work they are doing. Robin Hood Gardens was also mentioned as a notable example. Mike told me of his expence concerning the development of the docks and how he took part in documenting the impact that this development had and still has in the mind of many local people

Where do they see Poplar in 5 years time?

Keeping and restoring the best of current housing and where possible building more ‘affordable’ social housing. Many iconic examples are due for demolition. We shall see what happens

For me this is a record of the high points of local estate building when more care seemed to be taken and quality was a higher priority. The people that took the pictures are not necsasereley ‘artists’ but I believe want to provoke a reaction in local people to their surrounds and as I sat and listen to the many locals who came through door I could see this. People telling stories of when they lived in the buildings or new somebody who did – some even putting names to the people in the pictures, so that even the black and white pictures seemed to take on more ‘colour’. One person described the exhibition as a lament for the past let’s hope this is not the case

The exhibition is an ongoing project and will be looking for more pictures of local estates. There will also be more exhibitions in more accessible places. And with 800 people taking a look in 10 days it seems to be working… why not pop it and see what you think…