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.

Visit the photographic exhibition Thamesmead: A Town for the 21st Century at the RIBA which runs until 16 May 2019.

Feature by Jonathan Makepeace.

1 2 3 4 6 7 ... 3291
108594 items
RIBA3804Hall of Prayers for a Good Harvest, Temple of Heaven, Beijing

 
RIBA3806Hornsey Town Hall, Crouch End, London

 
RIBA3807Casa del Fascio, Piazza del Popolo, Como


RIBA3808San Giovanni in Laterano, Rome

 
RIBA3810Churchill Gardens Estate, Pimlico, London: children's playground

 
RIBA3811Churchill Gardens Estate, Pimlico, London: Chaucer House and the heat-accumulator seen from across the Thames


RIBA3812Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte

 
RIBA3813Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte: the south front with parterres

 
RIBA3814Atomium, 1958 World's Fair, Brussels


RIBA3815Atomium, 1958 World's Fair, Brussels

 
RIBA3816Ruins of St Andrew, Covehithe, Suffolk

 
RIBA3817Columbia printing press at the Southwold Press


RIBA3818Gloucester Cathedral: the triforium and arcade of the nave seen from the chancel

 
RIBA3819Clandon Park, West Clandon, Surrey: the garden front

 
RIBA3821St Paul's Cathedral, City of London, seen from a nearby bombsite


RIBA3823Study with desk, chair, fitted bookcases and curtains, Berlin

 
RIBA3824Municipal offices, Earl Street, Coventry

 
RIBA3825Bodiam Castle, East Sussex


RIBA3826Victoria Assize Courts, Birmingham

 
RIBA3827Victoria Assize Courts, Birmingham

 
RIBA3828Boots head office (the D90 West building), Beeston, Nottinghamshire


RIBA3829Shopping centre, Pepys Estate, Deptford, London

 
RIBA3830Children's playground, Pepys Estate, Deptford, London

 
RIBA3832Rievaulx Abbey, North Yorkshire: the nave of the church


RIBA3833Head office for insurance firm Willis Faber and Dumas Limited, Ipswich, Suffolk

 
RIBA3834Royal English Opera House, now the Palace Theatre, Cambridge Circus, London

 
RIBA3835City Bank, 45-47 Ludgate Hill, City of London


RIBA3838Model of the final revised design for the National Gallery Extension, Hampton site, Trafalgar Square, London

 
RIBA3839Model of the final revised design for the National Gallery Extension, Hampton site, Trafalgar Square, London

 
RIBA3840View of Potsdam


RIBA3841Lincoln Cathedral: the Angel Choir

 
RIBA3843St Paul's Cathedral, City of London, seen from the steeple of St Martin Ludgate

 
RIBA3844Selfridges department store, Bull Ring, Birmingham: the store juxtaposed with the tower of St Martin's Church


1 2 3 4 6 7 ... 3291