|Project||Maiden Lane Stage 1|
|Architect||Benson, Gordon & Alan Forsyth|
|Address||Agar Grove/St. Paul's Crescent|
|Building Type||Row house|
Slab, gallery-access, skip stop
|Number of Dwellings||225|
|Dwelling Types||1BR flats, 2 &3 BR maisonettes & townhouses|
|Section Type||flats and maisonettes|
|concrete, plaster, glass, steel trim, wood windows|
|Construction Type||RC, combination precast, poured in place and concrete block|
|Ancillary Services||public open space, squash quarts, shops, community center, meeting rooms|
Maiden Lane is the last in a series of remarkable housing projects planned or built between 1965 and 1982 when Sidney Cook was the head of the Department of Architecture for the London Borough of Camden. These projects include the completion of Foundling Estate, Highgate New Town, Fleet Road, Alexandra Road and other housing estates in addition to many schools and other community buildings. While Maiden Lane was designed and built after Cook retired in 1973, it is of the genre of buildings built during Cook’s tenure and is reflective of the brief heyday that Modern Architecture enjoyed in Camden before serious economic restrictions encouraged a return to an architecture of popular and vernacular influence.
Maiden Lane is a complex of 225 dwellings on a gently sloping site above and north and east of the rail complex north of King’s Cross and St. Pancras Station. Agar Road, a street of Victorian houses, defines the site along the north side. Maiden Lane consists of 2-story row houses and 3 and 4-story point and gallery-access apartment buildings arranged around several public open spaces. This group forms the letter “F” with the two groups of row houses between the extended arms of the “F”. The taller buildings form a perimeter enclosure along the eastern and southern sides of the site with three elements that extend northward from the community center that contains squash courts and meeting rooms. The central plaza area extends north between two zones of row houses connecting to a row of connected 3-story buildings raised above a public walkway that connects to Agar Road. The terraced, turreted forms, railings and general look of the community complex suggest nautical references.
The program required that 50% of the dwellings were row houses and they take up most of the site. This is a deep type that is arranged into parallel north/south rows. Principle north-south walkways provide access in addition to narrow crosswalks that connect to the community spaces. The row houses, 2 stories high with sky lighted interiors, provide most of the larger family dwellings that were required to have access at grade. This type is organized with bedrooms on the lower floor that open to small gardens that get light from the terraces above. Parking is also located at the lower level. The living spaces are located on the top level with living and dining areas opening to terrace spaces. The interior kitchen is lighted with a continuous skylight.
The smaller dwellings in the program are located in both point-access and gallery-access building types. All dwellings have either private gardens and terraces or balconies. Some of the maisonettes have double-height living rooms. Parking is provided below grade with auto access at two points from Agar Road. The open spaces were minimally landscaped and provided with planters above the garage levels.
The construction and materials used in Maiden Lane include a mix of poured in place concrete, precast concrete panels that are used for the cross walls, plaster walls, concrete block, black wood window and door frames and balustrade parts, wood fences, several different types of glass including translucent glass for some balustrades. The concrete is painted and was beginning to peel by the end of the first year.
Shortly after it opened in 1982, Maiden Lane was hailed as a model new community by articles in the April 1983 issue of Architectural Review written by Alvin Boyarsky and John Winter. Praise was given to the site design and the quality of the public spaces, the mix of dwelling types and the overall quality of the individual dwellings. References were made to Corbusian housing models and the famous terrace housing by Atelier 5, Siedlung Halen. By the mid 1980’s, however, Maiden Lane had been rendered virtually uninhabitable and Hunt Thompson Associates were hired to prepare a report about how to modify and improve living conditions.
The Thompson report was highly critical of the design of Maiden Lane and contained comparisons between statements in the 1983 AR article and those from actual residents. Most dissatisfaction related to the row house dwellings and Hunt Thompson made recommendations to modify these houses that included different access, more secure parking, the installation of pitched roofs over the skylights and the reorganization of the interiors so that the living spaces were below grade with the bedrooms on top. There were dampness and drainage problems, vandalism and a general lack of security. Walls were covered with graffiti, paint was spalling everywhere, roofs and skylights leaked and there were leaking problems with the heating supply lines. While Hunt Thompson was very critical of the design of Maiden Lane other evidence indicated that tenant complaints were also the result of social problems related to the concentration of an impoverished population in these buildings, poor management; and poor maintenance. Twenty years later, the buildings have a very worn appearance. Painting is still spalling and walls are patched and damaged, cars are parked everywhere and while there are some mature trees, the planters are still a problem. All of the Hunt Thompson proposals do not seem to have been implemented and the skylights, at least have not yet been replaced with pitched roofs and the buildings look pretty much original. Considering the appalling social profile of the Maiden Lane residents described in the Thompson report (Architectural Review, Nov. 1988, pp. 74-78), it is a small miracle that Maiden Lane is still in use.
Colquhoun, Ian, RIBA Book of 20th Century British Housing, Butterfield-Heinemann, Oxford, 1999, pp. 50-52
Architectural Review, 11/88, pp. 74-78
Architectural Review, 01/80, p. 34
Architectural Review, 04/83, pp.22-29
Architect;s Journal, 19/10/88, pp. 83-84
Techniques & Architecture, May, 1981, pp. 60-61