Thamesmead

Thamesmead: The Forgotten Town for the 21st Century

Heralded by the Greater London Council (GLC) as a “town for the 21st century”, the Woolwich-Erith Riverside Project was only christened Thamesmead in 1967 following a Name Our New Town competition with a £20 prize. To be built on marshland and part of the Woolwich Arsenal site, it was intended to help ease the capital’s post-war housing shortage and to be a town of 60,000 people exploiting a riverside position with sufficient local employment, amenities and transport infrastructure.

The 1967 master plan envisaged a combination of long spine blocks and high- rise point blocks but Thamesmead’s design and landscape was influenced by the site. Pollution from local heavy industry prohibited building above 200ft dictating squat 13-storey point blocks rather than the few intended tall, slim blocks. In 1953 the site was flooded by the North Sea inundation, thus for flood protection all habitable accommodation had to be on the first floor with garages and service areas below. The houses were innovatively linked by raised walkways also serving to separate pedestrians from road traffic. To assist in controlling water levels a series of balancing lakes and canals would drain run-off water into the Thames at low tide.

Such was the initial international attention given to Thamesmead’s architecture that the early residents found the great number of visitors highly intrusive. However, media focus on the GLC’s flagship project soon switched to its failings, in particular the urban alienation of disillusioned residents. Today its reputation is synonymous with the film A Clockwork Orange but the problems predated the film’s 1971 release. The much vaunted walkways had the unintended consequence of dark no-go areas below, facilities took too long to develop, transport links were poor and contaminated land and ground conditions led to expensive construction and delays.

Despite being the culmination of the GLC’s housing works, ultimately only stages 1 and 2 were completed in a form resembling the master plan which largely remained an unrealised vision. Mostly forgotten today, much of Thamesmead, ironically, now comprises suburban housing and although there is a programme of regeneration for stages 1 and 2 this is proceeding slowly and has resulted in the demolition of the futuristic Lakeside Health Centre (Derek Stow & Partners, 1972).

50 years on from the initial construction phase this gallery is illustrated by historic photographs from the RIBA Robert Elwall Photographs Collection and the work of contemporary photographers Christopher Hope-Fitch and Joanne Underhill. To see additional images of Thamesmead click here. All of the images are available to download, purchase or license.  

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101485 items
RIBA64332Berkeley Library, Trinity College, Dublin: students relaxing on the raked concrete benches by the east front entrance

 
RIBA64334Berkeley Library, Trinity College, Dublin: the entrance hall

 
RIBA12953Plan of Nottingham Castle


RIBA84028Plan of Nottingham Castle

 
RIBA84030View of Nottingham Castle with gabled houses and a church at the bottom of the hill

 
RIBA84031View of the north face of Nottingham Castle: elevation


RIBA3116-39"Experiments in Living" exhibition, Maples store, London: "Expando-Space", an expanding adaptable space

 
RIBA28004"Experiments in Living" exhibition, Maples store, London: multi-purpose foam block put to various uses

 
RIBA4684"Experiments in Living" exhibition, Maples store, London: over-bed cloud forms


RIBA4682"Experiments in Living" exhibition, Maples store, London: sketch annotated "Type of building for Expandospace Exhibition"

 
RIBA4683"Experiments in Living" exhibition, Maples store, London: sketch of room plan for Expandospace Exhibition

 
RIBA59992"Seco" prefabs


RIBA3455-59"Seco" temporary bungalow

 
RIBA59991"Seco" temporary bungalows, McLeod Road, Woolwich, London

 
RIBA42359(Former) Bedford Park Stores, Bath Road, Bedford Park, Turnham Green, London


RIBA34719[C] Space - DRL 10 Pavilion, Bedford Square, Bloomsbury, London

 
RIBA34720[C] Space - DRL 10 Pavilion, Bedford Square, Bloomsbury, London

 
RIBA105569’Devil’s Elbow’, Skyline Drive, Prospect Ridge, Nassau, for Mr & Mrs A. R. McDonald


RIBA607081 & 2 Laurence Pountney Hill, City of London

 
RIBA607091 & 2 Laurence Pountney Hill, City of London

 
RIBA800331 & 3 Wells Rise, St John's Wood, London


RIBA692521 and 2 Coach and Horses Yard, Savile Row, Westminster, London

 
RIBA60351 Bedford Square, Bloomsbury, London

 
RIBA156561 Bedford Square, Bloomsbury, London: the entrance hall


RIBA1019831 Boulevard Charles V, Nancy

 
RIBA279821 Bridge Street, The Cross, Chester, Cheshire

 
RIBA523511 Broad Street, Stamford


RIBA83801 Chester Gate, Regent's Park, London: leather screen painted by Mary Adshead

 
RIBA83771 Chester Gate, Regent's Park, London: papier-mache tray painted by Mary Adshead

 
RIBA83791 Chester Gate, Regent's Park, London: screen painted by Mary Adshead


RIBA702071 Coleman Street, City of London

 
RIBA702081 Coleman Street, City of London

 
RIBA702031 Coleman Street, City of London, at dusk


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