James Gowan’s Trafalgar Road housing estate was inspired by the Amsterdam School, and an outstanding example of what could be achieved with a limited budget
Trafalgar Road housing estate
The Trafalgar Road estate was designed by Glasgow-born James Gowan for the Greater London Council shortly after the split with his former architectural partner James Stirling. Consisting of four-storey terraced maisonettes arranged around a courtyard, it drew a degree of inspiration from the work of the Amsterdam School. The Architectural Review indeed described it as ‘an astonishingly Dudokian quadrangle of severe, precise and formalist red brick’ in its special issue on housing of September 1970, part of the pioneering Manplan series. Here Gowan’s housing complex is unequivocally considered an outstanding example of what can be achieved with a limited budget: ‘Throughout there is a sense of responsible architecture – money spent on essentials, not frills’. To compensate for the starkness of the scheme, caused by cuts in the original budget, Gowan produced a personalisation kit for householders, who would be able through a tenants’ co-operative to sponsor various clip-on elements such as balcony covers, porches, screens, trellises and conservatories, as well as colour and pattern. This beautiful image of the estate was captured by the influential British photographer Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972).