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Tower blocks fall victim to return of pre-war values: Jonathan Glancey reports on a plan to replace a notorious London estate with traditional housing

Jonathan Glancey
Saturday 12 December 1992 00:02 GMT

IF IT took 20 men 13 weeks to erect each of the 19-storey towers of the Holly Street estate in Hackney, east London, how long will take the same number of men to demolish them?

The answer is 26 weeks; for the newly condemned system-built towers of Holly Street Estate, one of the most notorious council estates in Britain, soar high above streets dense with housing, shops, workshops and traffic. The towers cannot easily be exploded or imploded, and one, if not two, of the four might survive a plan announced yesterday by Hackney Council to demolish this early-Seventies estate and to replace it with 1,054 new homes built in traditional style along the pre-Blitz street pattern.

The tenants - a galaxy of old school cockneys, Kurdish and African refugees, Indians and West Indians - say they want the estate to go in its entirety. They are looking forward to enjoying comforts currently restricted to Hackney's middle-class cockneys who have snapped up nearly all the best traditional houses in the area over the past decade.

Holly Street estate is a text- book example of what went wrong with the system-built estates of the Sixties and Seventies. Although rooms are a generous size standards of construction were questionable and the layout of the estate a disaster.

At the foot of the towers are 16 five-storey deck-access blocks; at the fourth-floor level these are connected by one continuous, quarter-mile-long 'street in the sky'. This has been a dream rat- run for the estates' many muggers and a nightmare for most residents. Those living on the fifth floor have been robbed by burglars who have punched their way through flat roofs.

The Holly Street redevelopment scheme is a pointer to the way inner-city estates will be redeveloped in the future.

Laing Homes are the developers and 20 per cent of the homes will be for sale. The rest will be planned and allocated by the council, the tenants and the seven housing associations the tenants have chosen to work with. The new streets and homes will be financed by City Challenge, the Department of the Environment, Hackney Council and Laing Homes.

The traditional style houses and street pattern are being designed jointly by Levitt Bernstein Associates (on behalf of Laing Homes) and the architects of the London Borough of Hackney.

David Bernstein, of Levitt Bernstein Associates, said: 'We've designed back the streets that used to be on the site, and we've designed flats and houses based on the sort of early Victorian houses that used to stand here in Dalston and Hackney.'

(Photograph omitted)

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