Yesterday I was walking on Hampstead Heath, and took the opportunity to venture a little further North and visit one of my old haunts, Branch Hill Estate by Benson and Forsyth (1974-6).
Three of my friends lived in one of the houses at the bottom of Branch hill during our first year living in London. The house never really worked for a group of young professionals, but I can imagine it would be a fantastic family home. I doubt the creators of the estate would have approved of 20-something graduates, renting in this ‘social housing’ at inflated rents from private landlords! The architecture is not at fault here, these are fantastic council houses – but bad policy over the years has seen the estate largely privately owned – just another ‘des-res’ area in one of London’s most affluent postcodes.
The estate was built on the grounds of the Branch Hill Lodge, which is now a nursing home. Between the lodge and the housing, a garage has been tucked into the hillside.
Although the development is high-density, it is also very generous. The steeply sloping site has been used to great avail, with each house having a large balcony on the roof of the terrace below. The interior is split-level, taking further advantage of the hillside. You enter at a mid-level, where the kitchen and dining area are located. On the upper level there is a sitting room and master bedroom, and access to the roof terrace. The children’s bedrooms are located on a lower level with direct access to the small front courtyard – an ideal protected play space, overlooked by the master bedroom and sitting room, and accessible from the upper level by a simple steel spiral.
It is difficult to achieve high-density in low-rise developments without creating mean passageways, or oppressive uniformity. Here both have been avoided. The stepping of the terraces lends the narrow streets great variation – they never feel dark or intimidating. The ever-present gardens, overhead and at ground level soften the estate, allowing it to feel integrated with its wooded surroundings. Far from creating rigidity, the orthogonal grid of the streets directs views into and out of the site. The principal streets take the axis of the Lodge and offer views out of the site to the Lodge itself and to the wooded area at the foot of the hill. Level pathways leading into the estate bisect theses streets. The streets and paths are in a rich brick, with panels of warm, aggregate rich concrete and bordered by textured (timber shuttered) concrete garden walls. This warmth complements the rather severe expression of the houses; realised in concrete, dark stained timber and glass.
The 4 Enerhaugen blocks in Oslo were built from 1960-1965 by the Oslo housing association (architect Sofus Haugen). They replaced an older part of the city on a much smaller scale, mostly wooden single houses. Now the apartments are privately owned and have become quite exclusive since they are centrally located and have the an amazing view over Oslo fjord.
As Mark mentioned when I showed him the images, they are quite severe, but they exude a certain quality. The proportions are elegant and the use of material and colour enhance that, though the green panel is questionable for sure…
They are imposing structures in the city but when walking around them you never feel like scale takes over. They complete the composition of the streets.