Explore London's best housing estates - Grand Designs Magazine
BEDzed housing estate is opening as part of Open House London

Community architecture: explore London’s most iconic housing estates

Open House Festival 2021 is celebrating great design and community architecture in London

By Victoria Purcell |

Not all housing estates are created equally. The impact of housing on our quality of life was thrown sharply into the spotlight during Covid-19, with residents in crowded cities struggling to find space during the pandemic. As part of Open House Festival 2021, some of London’s most iconic housing estates are being celebrated for the great design that helped support residents’ wellbeing during the pandemic.

Five celebrated London housing estates will be hosting tours and events in September as part of the festival: BedZED in south west London; Cressingham Gardens in south London; the famed community-built Walters Way in south east London; Stoneleigh Terrace in north London; and Greenwich’s lesser-known Vanbrugh Estate by the Barbican architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon.

While cities like London grapples with an increasingly acute housing crisis, these schemes demonstrate how extraordinary housing can be unlocked through imagination, design integrity and political will.

‘The generous, considerate and ingenious spaces for living and community which define our top five housing estates for 2021 show what is possible when housing for ordinary Londoners is built with empathy and great design in mind,’ said Siân Milliner, Head of Open House Festival.

London’s best housing estates

BedZED, Hackbridge

BedZED in Hackbridge, south west London has earned its place in design history as the UK’s first – and most ambitious – large-scale, mixed-use sustainable community. Spearheaded by architect Bill Dunster ZEDfactory in collaboration with Arup, Peabody and Bioregional, the 82-unit estate was built with the aim of achieving ambitious reductions of energy, water and car use. The scheme, completed in 2002, is notable for its colourfully-finned wind cowells, glass-frontage with suspended metal balconies.

Tours of BedZED will run on Saturday 11 September 2021 at 10am, 11am, 12pm, 1pm.

Tour BEDzed housing estate in London during Open House Festival

BedZED in Hackbridge, south west London. Photo: Bioregional/Tom Chance

Cressingham Gardens, Lambeth

Cressingham Gardens, designed by influential architect Edward Hollamby, is a post-war housing estate in south London. Located next to Brockwell Park, the low-rise, high density development responds to and works with the existing landscape. As well as seamlessly embedding itself within its surrounding landscape – none of the buildings rise above the treeline – the estate is also predominantly pedestrianised, with a ‘village square’ creating a community focal point. Despite its brilliance, the estate was earmarked for redevelopment in 2012 and plans have recently been advanced for its partial demolition.

Cressingham Gardens tours and a community-led exhibition will run on 11 & 12 September 2021 between 10am and 4pm.

Cressingham Gardens by Edward Hollamby in south London

Cressingham Gardens by Edward Hollamby in south London. Photo: Open House Festival

Walters Way, Lewisham

Walters Way, a close made up of 13 remarkable houses, was built as part of an innovative housing scheme by Lewisham council in the 1980s. Hills and large trees meant that the derelict plot unsuitable for conventional house building, so it was offered to people on the social housing waiting list who were willing to build their own houses. The timber-frame houses, based on Walter Segal designs, don’t have traditional foundations and instead are built on stilts and concrete piles dug deep into the ground. When a similar Walter Segal project in Brighton featured on Grand Designs in 1999, Kevin McCloud called it ‘the ultimate in building democracy’, and he often cites it as one of his favourite Grand Designs projects.

Walters Way residents will host a series of events on Sunday 5 September between 12pm and 4.30pm.

Walters Way by Walter Segal in Lewisham. Photo: Open House London

Walters Way by Walter Segal in Lewisham. Photo: Open House London

Stoneleigh Terrace, Highgate

Highgate New Town, now known as Whittington estate, was designed in the 60s and completed 1981 by Hungarian architect Peter Tabori. Tabori studied under Richard Rogers and was employed by Ernö Goldfinger before working for Sydney Cook – the architect behind Camden’s ‘golden age’ of redevelopment with progressive post-war social housing projects. Camden moved away from high-rise tower blocks, creating low-rise, high-density linear stepped-section blocks instead. The Whittington estate is made up of six parallel terraces within four pedestrianised streets. The 271 dwellings range from one-bed flats to six-bedroom houses.

Resident-led tours of Stoneleigh Terrace will run on 11 & 12 September 2021.

Whittington estate by architect Peter Tabori is running Open House London tours

Highgate New Town by Hungarian architect Peter Tabori. Photo: Open House London

Vanbrugh Estate, Blackheath

Vanbrugh Estate in Blackheath, south east London, is a lesser-known development designed by Barbican architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, who also designed the Golden Lane Estate in the City of London after winning an architecture competition in the 50s. An impressive central tower block acts as a focal point to the 1963 development, which is enclosed by a series of breeze-block terraces featuring details such as space-age kitchen windows. The concrete posts of the original communal washing lines still pepper the estate.

Resident-led tours of the Vanbrugh Estate run on Saturday 11 September between 11am and 5pm.

Vanbrugh Estate in Blackheath is running tours for Open House London

Vanbrugh Estate, Blackheath. Photo: Open House London

About Open House Festival 2021

Open City’s Open House Festival 2021 runs from Saturday 4 September-Sunday 12 September 2021. Find the full listings at openhouselondon.org.uk. Bookings are required for most events in order to facilitate contact tracing. Open House Festivals take place in 50 cities around the world from New York City to Taipei and Zurich.