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Kings Crescent Estate

Jim Stephenson

More then just housing: rebuilding communities.

There is a certain rate of caution in architectural writing when confronting with the word "redevelopment", especially if related to council estate programs. Once welcomed and now feared, the regeneration programs are too often linked with projects that in the first place are meant to attract new inhabitants, more than create a better neighborhood for the pre-existing ones. This is why the short video by Jim Stephenson for the Kings Crescent Estate in Stoke Newington, Hackney, London, by Karakusevic Carson Architects and Henley Halebrown focuses on the themes of the community and the value of trust.

Restoring the faith of the local community was indeed the first challenge for the architects. Disillusioned and disengaged after 18 years of failed proposals, at that point the local estate community of the London Borough of Hackney had seen half of the estate, composed by unpopular high-rise buildings, demolished in the 2000s and a couple of redevelopment attempt failing since then. Closely engaging and consulting them was pivotal for Karakusevic Carson Architects to create a relationship with the people of the Kings Crescent Estate: it was not only an issue related to Karakusevic Carson Architects' presence on-site, but rather an essential step in making the estate a place for community living, restoring its pride.

As Jim Stephenson declares, commenting on the long collaborations between the firm and him "Karakusevic Carson Architects are one of the key architects in the UK pushing forward 'council housing' and trying to develop new models to provide good quality homes in the areas that really need them". Located on the western edge of Hackney, between Clissold Park and the broad, leafy Victorian streets of Highbury, the overall project consisted of three new buildings (replacing the void left by the demolitions), refurbishing of the existing buildings and a new public realm - a masterplan, basically. "A genuine regeneration scheme" calls it John Lumley, director of regeneration of the Hackney Council, stressing the fact that it involved not only creating new and needed housing but also community centers and commercial areas.

Involving the creation of 269 new homes and the refurbishment of 101 existing homes, half of them on the estate are social housing, and a further 10% are for shared ownership. Working with Henley Halebrown Architects, Karakusevic Carson Architects has created the three new buildings that vary in scale from 5 to 12 storeys in height, to create a fine balance between variety and consistency, alternating between the two architects to avoid the visual monotony of many estates designed by one hand.

Switching from models to interviews to sequences shot around and inside the estate, Jim Stephenson allows the architects and the council to explain and emphasize the featuring characteristics of their work, the improvement of the estate that will benefit the local community and the collaboration created to create a better environment - not just homes. "The collaborations were the key to the success […] to create an estate with its own identity," says Rachael Barker of Karakusevic Carson Architects, referencing also to the variety of the architectural solutions, as Stephenson moves his camera to give us the possibility to properly see what is being said.

"I've worked with Karakusevic Carson Architects several times on films about their work," says Stephenson, who is also the author of numerous films, "including one commission where we traveled to Paris, Amsterdam, Vienna, and London to create a film study of social housing in Europe to be presented at an exhibition in New York."
Jim Stephenson spoke about the way the shot the film, "I spent several days there, partly so I could gather as much b-roll as possible, and partly to get to know the people that live there," he says. "Although the residents of the estate don't feature as heavily in the film as I'd like, historically the estate has not been treated very well by people coming into it, so I was keen to show that I was there to celebrate it whilst being respectful that it's people's homes I'm pointing my camera at."

In another recently released video for Marmalade Lane in Cambridge, a community living facility, the residents expressed to the camera how much it meant to them to be able to live together, to share the public space with neighbors: though these two projects are different in terms of commissions, it must be remembered the basic needs they represent and that, to be able to live together, we need to be put in condition to do so, with programs of improvement of the public realm, housing, that take into consideration what it takes to make a community.

(Story by Sara Marzullo, The Architecture Player)


Architects: Karakusevic Carson Architects, Henley Halebrown
Mentioned project: Kings Crescent Estate Phases 1 & 2 (2017)
Project location: Stoke Newington, Hackney, London, England, United Kingdom
Aerial footage: Peter Landers Photography

United Kingdom 2019
Duration: 04'12"