Priory Green Estate, Kings Cross NW3

Priory Green Estate, Kings Cross NW3
Lubetkin-designed concrete social housing with ‘Conservation Area’ status
Architect: Tecton & Lubetkin
Year built: 1957

At first glance, this centrally located council estate doesn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary. However, upon closer inspection, the fact it was designed by Lubetkin (the architect responsible for the spectacularly luxurious High Point in Highgate) becomes apparent.

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Small details, such as the putty-coloured square tiling covering sections of the facade, the tapered, almost sculptural stairways, white columns dotted here and there, the elegant grey and dark red colour scheme and even the typeface used for the door numbers all typify Lubetkin’s modernist style. The layout of the blocks make perfect sense: communal walkways on one side of the building, private balconies on the other, meaning that all flats are dual aspect.

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The flats weren’t open to view but I understand that they’re all split level and have reasonable proportions as these photos from Modernist Estates suggest. The estate seems to be well maintained and quiet (it was, apparently, a hotbed of criminal activity for a time) but Lubetkin design features or not, the fact remains that it is a council estate in Kings Cross.

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This is why I found it difficult to sympathise with the story of a private owner (obviously an architect), who reportedly complained about the erection of the graffiti-style mural in the central quad, painted by the children of the estate, on the grounds that it wasn’t consistent with the architecture or what Lubetkin would have wanted. Most importantly of all (to her), however, it was preventing her from hosting dinner parties at her flat, because it was sure to offend her guests. Although I concede that the mural is a distinctly un-modernist eyesore, to complain about something like this is missing the point of the estate and social housing in general: the design was and is supposed to meet the needs of the principal community that it houses, not prissy modernist purists (like myself) and their dinner party guests, and on this count it succeeds.

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