The country’s first council estate is a great example of people-focused architecture, whilst the Tottenham Court Road one-way system is just badly thought out


The Boundary Estate in Shoreditch, east London is certainly a bit rough around the edges, but the UK’s first council estate is a real delight.

The red-brick, now-listed tenement blocks were built in the 1890s to provide flats for workers on the site of Old Nichol, one of the London’s most notorious slums. Careful planning and considered design created a special piece of the city that has stood the test of time.

Its is arranged around a circular green, built up upon the rubble of the cleared slum. A recently restored bandstand sits proudly on top, lending the Circus an air of civic pride. The buildings are almost institutional in design, definitively of a type and yet each subtly distinguished by its arts and crafts detailing. Workshops sit adjacent to the residential blocks at the estate’s perimeter (now let to fashion designers, artists and web companies), small shops and a community launderette line the length of the main street and a school, community centre and playground all feature - a truly, mixed use quarter designed with people in mind.

The Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street one-way system, meanwhile, is an abject lesson in designing and planning for cars instead of people, with miserable results. Designed to increase vehicle flow but unsuited to London’s non-geometric street pattern - sees three lanes of fast-moving traffic on Tottenham Court Road inevitably create major congestion along the smaller scale Gower Street.

The outcome is an urban racetrack completely out of keeping with the fine Georgian streets and squares of Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia. Reinstating two-way traffic to these streets would improve this part of London in one relatively economical stroke.


Wonders and blunders

Source: Alamy

The Boundary Estate in Shoreditch, east London, was built over the site of Old Nichol slum. The estate opened in 1900. The tenement flats are Grade II listed. Restoration work was carried out on a bandstand in the centre of the estate, a garden area known as Arnold Circus, last year after a local community group, the Friends of Arnold Circus, received a regeneration grant.


Wonders and blunders

Source: Alamy

The Tottenham Court Road/Gower Street one-way system was introduced in 1965 by the Greater London Council. Last year there were reports that TfL are drawing up plans to return it to a two-way system to prevent bottlenecks of traffic, along with several other one-way systems in the capital

Debbie Whitfield is director of New London Architecture