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.

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108594 items
RIBA3886Design for the interior of St George's Roman Catholic Cathedral, Southwark, London

 
RIBA3887Design for the principal facade of the Bathing Pavilion, Hotel de Brancas, Paris

 
RIBA3888Design for a stage set showing a hall in a Baroque palace with superimposed colonnades


RIBA3889Saint Mark's Square, Venice

 
RIBA3890Designs for Corehouse, Lanarkshire: interior perspective of the grand staircase

 
RIBA3893Design for the Pagoda, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London


RIBA3894Elevation of one wall of Madame Recamier's bathroom, Hotel Recamier, Paris

 
RIBA3895Elevation of one wall of Madame Recamier's bedroom, Hotel Recamier, Paris

 
RIBA3896Design for an Egyptian style room


RIBA3897Design for St David's (Ramshorn) Kirk, 98 Ingram Street, Glasgow

 
RIBA3898Unexecuted competition designs for the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge: perspective of the principal front (design A for a Classical building using a Corinthian order)

 
RIBA3899Unexecuted competition designs for the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge: perspective of the front elevation (design B for a building in a Decorated Gothic style)


RIBA3900Competition design for the Houses of Parliament, Palace of Westminster, London: view of the facade from the River Thames

 
RIBA3901Unexecuted competition design for the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

 
RIBA3902Design for a monument to Richard Gwillym


RIBA3904Designs for alterations and additions to existing house, Lambton Hall, County Durham: interior perspective of the dining room

 
RIBA3905Views of Ashridge Park, Hertfordshire: interior view of the staircase hall

 
RIBA3906Views of Ashridge Park, Hertfordshire: perspective from the south-east


RIBA3907Design for a triumphal arch commemorating the freedom of the seas

 
RIBA3908Design for a stage set: the Gallery of Pluto

 
RIBA3909Design for Barrells House, Henley-in-Arden, Warwickshire


RIBA3910Alternative designs for the Mausoleum, Blickling Hall, Blickling, in memory of the 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire: perspective from the north-west

 
RIBA3911Design for the drawing room, Burley-on-the-Hill, Rutland

 
RIBA3912Design for the ceiling of the drawing room, Burley-on-the-Hill, Rutland


RIBA3913Design for book room ceiling, Burley-on-the-Hill, Rutland

 
RIBA3914Design for the book room, Burley-on-the-Hill, Rutland

 
RIBA3915Designs for the Church of St James, Great Packington, Warwickshire, for the 4th Earl of Aylesford: plan, west elevation and section of east end showing altar


RIBA3918Edward Hodges Baily completing the statue of Nelson for Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square, London, in his studio

 
RIBA3919Designs for the interior decoration of Montagu House, 22 Portman Square, Westminster, London, for Mrs Elizabeth Montagu: plan for the carpet of the Great Drawing Room

 
RIBA3920Designs for gardener's house and hot houses, Lambton Hall, County Durham: elevation of the south front of the hothouses


RIBA3922Design for the Great Drawing Room in Montagu House, 22 Portland Square, London

 
RIBA3923Design for a drawing room

 
RIBA3924Design for Leeds Grammar School


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