Alternative Guide to London Boroughs

The Open House London organisation invited Owen Hatherley to produce a guide to all 33 London boroughs. It’s available here: https://shop.openhouselondon.org.uk/products/pre-order-open-house-london-guide-2020

Given that most of the Open House activities can’t take place in person this year (weekend of 19-20 September 2020), this alternative guide provides a brilliant variety of approaches, insights and takes on what it’s really like to live in the material space and architecture of London.

open house cover
Open House London cover of the Alternative Guide

I was honoured to be asked to write the Croydon entry, with a focus on public space.

It is my first published writing on the borough, and stems from some of the research I’ve been doing for the project that this website is showcasing.

contents page
contents page. Look at that range and variety of authors.

I conclude that the 1950s and 60s redevelopment of Croydon in favour of office accommodation and roads severely diminished the availability or amenity of central open public or civic space in the town centre, a problem that has not been fully remedied by pedestrianisation.

I also point out the current fashion among the big developers redeveloping Croydon again for calling the open spaces between the new massive towers as ‘town squares’. Squares are back, but they are privately owned and controlled, and I doubt will form a communal space for either residents or the general public.

london square
ruskin square
saffron square
lansdowne road

But I also praise the range and extent of green spaces in and around Croydon, and hope they are retained in the face of current rezoning and redesignation of land use under the various plans.

purley way playing fields
Purley Way playing fields, July 2020, under lockdown

I love Open House London. It’s genuinely one of the highlights of the year, marking the end of summer and the start of the new academic year. A final mosey round new places and familiar sites, often in an Indian summer in the last rays of warm sun before it goes cold and dark for the rest of the year.

I’ve seen some great buildings (notably the Isokon and Pullman Court art deco buildings in Belsize Park and Streatham respectively), been shown round wonderful housing schemes by local residents (Cressingham Gardens, Golden Lane, also the Walter Segal self-builds in Lewisham) and got into the most delightful spaces on my doorstep (St Bernard’s estate in Park Hill, Croydon).

There are virtual tours and some activities going ahead 19-20 September, and I very much hope everything returns bigger and better next year.