System Building on the Morris Walk Estate by Lorna Coventry on 23 June 2009
Lorna Coventry works for English Heritage, and is a colleague of Peter Guillery (who has featured previously in the Newsletter). They are currently working on the Survey of London, vol. 48, Woolwich.
She spoke about the Morris Walk Estate, the first to be ‘system’ built in London. The Estate is east of Maryon Park and runs down to Woolwich Church Street, the railway running through it. Morris Walk was the name of the road in the middle of the area, though that and all other previous features were obliterated. The redevelopment was done for slum clearance, though some good houses were included (for which market prices had to be paid) to make up the area for the development to be viable – just over 500 units were provided in 3 and 10-12 storey blocks.
The ‘system’ was Danish and had been used successfully for ten years in the Netherlands before it was taken up by the LCC. It comprised a set of interlocking load bearing wall and floor panels which could be arranged into housing units. These could be stacked to make multi-storey blocks. The LCC did not take the design as it was, but modified it to be able make taller blocks.
They were proud of its aesthetics. The outer faces of the panels were finished with stone chippings, and are still as good as when they were put up over forty years ago. However, the Estate had some serious drawbacks. There was a standard kitchen and bathroom design – fine for a two bedroom unit, but cramped for a four bedroom unit. Balconies were deemed too expensive and omitted – so there was nowhere suitable to put the washing - making condensation a problem; ventilators were provided to cope with it, but were drafty and often blocked up. Heating was by electric radiators, and was always inadequate even after an upgrade. Noise insulation between Units was very poor.
Various communal activities were planned, but not provided because money ran out… Open areas between the blocks, intended for family activities, have not been used very much, and many children are kept safely indoors, looking at TV.
Later buildings built with this system included the notorious Ronan Point where a domestic gas explosion caused the collapse of all floors at one corner, though Ms Coventry said the Morris Walk Estate did not have this design fault.
The Estate is now slated for redevelopment, though again money is tight. A forty year life is rather poor, many buildings around the Estate being much older, and still going strong – indeed, structurally, the Estate is still in good fettle, but no one wants it kept.