Alexandra Road Estate

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Alexandra Road estate

The Alexandra Road estate, properly known as the Alexandra and Ainsworth estate, but more commonly, and erroneously, referred to as simply Rowley Way, is a housing estate in the London Borough of Camden, North West London, England. It was designed in 1968 by Neave Brown of Camden Council's Architects Department. Construction work commenced in 1972 and was completed in 1978. It is constructed from site-cast, board-marked white, unpainted reinforced concrete. Along with 520 apartments, the site also includes a school, community centre, youth club, heating complex, and parkland.

The estate[edit]

The estate consists of three parallel east-west blocks, and occupies a crescent-shaped site bounded on the south by Boundary Road, Loudoun Road on the east, Abbey Road on the west, and by the West Coast Main Line to the north. The desire to control the sound and vibration from passing trains was a major consideration in the layout of the estate.[1] Two rows of terraced apartments are aligned along the tracks. The higher, eight-story block directly adjacent to the railway line is organised in the form of a ziggurat, and acts as a noise barrier that blocks the noise of the trains from reaching the interior portion of the site, and its foundations rest on rubber pads that eliminate vibration.[2] A lower, 4-storey block runs along the other side of a continuous pedestrian walkway, known as Rowley Way, serving both terraced rows of buildings. The third row of buildings, along the southern edge of the site, parallels another public walkway, Langtry Walk, between this row and the existing earlier buildings of the Ainsworth Estate and defines a public park with play areas between the second and third row of dwellings.

The lower 4-storey building along Rowley Way contains maisonettes with shared access, terraces, and gardens over-looking the park at the rear. Maisonettes also occupy the top two levels of the larger 8-storey building opposite, with entrance from a walkway on the 7th floor that runs the entire length of the structure. Dwellings in the lower floor in this block are entered from open stairs serving two dwellings per floor. The flat roofs of the stepped elevation provides private outdoor areas for every home. Garage parking is located beneath the building, and underneath the building at the rear alongside the railway tracks.

Development and history[edit]

Since the early 1950s, tower blocks surrounded by public open space had been the method of choice for councils to replace terraced housing in poor condition while keeping the same high population density. However, by the mid-1960s, even before the collapse of Ronan Point, the shortcomings of that method were becoming apparent. Neave Brown believed that ziggurat style terraces, little higher than the terraces they replaced, could provide a better solution. Vehicular traffic could be restricted to basement level. Family-sized flats, bright and airy due to the set-back upper floors, could open, via their own "defensible" front garden, onto ground floor streets/play areas, whilst the higher levels could be used for smaller flats, each with a private balcony.[3]

The Alexandra Road Estate may be seen as Brown's culminating, and largest scale, effort to apply these principles to the design of high-density public housing. Five houses on Winscombe Street, built in 1967, were his first experiment with the terrace type. The Fleet Road project, begun about the same time and consisting of 71 houses, a shop, and a studio, arranged in parallel terraced rows, was a further application of the idea.

The estate received much criticism during and after its construction because of its very high cost (particularly compared with tower blocks), caused by the complicated nature of its construction, unforeseen foundation problems, and the delays caused by those at a time of very high inflation, reaching 20%/year at one point in the early 1970s. However, it has suffered less vandalism than many Camden estates, and it was granted Grade II* listed status on 18 August 1993, the first post-war council housing estate to be listed.[4] It was described by Peter Brooke, then Heritage Secretary, as "one of the most distinguished groups of buildings in England since the Second World War."

After a continuing career including international town planning and post-graduate teaching, Brown retrained as a fine artist, to which occupation he is devoting his retirement.[3][5]

In film/music[edit]

The brutalist architecture of the estate has been used as background or location in a number of films:

  • Scenes of the estate under construction can be seen in a 1976 episode of the TV series The Sweeney.
  • Setting of the 2000 ITV film "A Christmas Carol"
  • Shown in 2003 at the beginning of "Spiders" an episode of the BBC drama Spooks.
  • Given the fictitious name Marbatan Estates, the site served as a principal location in the 2014 episode "Undertone" of the TV series Silent Witness.
  • The home of the two characters Miro and Amira in the 2006 film Breaking and Entering
  • Featured in the 2007 British-Spanish post-apocalyptic science fiction horror film, co-written by Danny Boyle, 28 Weeks Later
  • The estate was used in the 2014 film Kingsman: The Secret Service. It is the housing Gary "Eggsy" Unwin (Taron Egerton) and his family resides in after his father's death.
  • The estate is also the location for the 2015 music video "Calling Me" by J Hus, Stratford (East London) rapper/afro beats artist.
  • In "Prime Suspect: The Final Act", series 7 of the British police procedural television drama series starring Helen Mirren, character Curtis Flynn is shown attempting to escape from police capture by jumping and scaling between apartment terraces in the estate.
  • Shown in Episode 7, “The Russian Cousin”, of the 12th and final series of BBC’s "New Tricks" where Steve McAndrew (actor Denis Lawson) and DCI Sasha Miller (actor Tamzin Outhwaite) stroll down the central pedestrian walkway discussing the case.
  • Featured in BBC Two drama London Spy as the home of the parents of lead character Daniel Edward Holt.
  • The two-part Channel 4 TV movie Never Never with John Simm and Sophie Okonedo is set in the Alexandra Road Estate.

It has also featured in a number of music videos and album covers including:


  1. ^ Great Buildings Online.
  2. ^ Wu Wei's Housing terraces in the UK (Part II)
  3. ^ a b "Neave Brown". Directory of Architects & Designers. The Modern House. Retrieved 3 March 2014. 
  4. ^ English Heritage Images of England.
  5. ^ "Neave Brown in conversation with Mark Swenarton". "pre-empts the release of AA Files 67". Architectural Association School of Architecture. 3 December 2013. Retrieved 3 March 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

Swenarton, Mark (3 March 2014). "Politics versus architecture: the Alexandra Road public enquiry of 1978–1981". Planning Perspectives. 29 (4): 423–446. doi:10.1080/02665433.2013.864956. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°32′21″N 0°11′00″W / 51.53917°N 0.18333°W / 51.53917; -0.18333