Keeling House strikes a noteworthy pose on the Bethnal Green skyline. Like many Modernist buildings, setting itself apart from from traditional period surroundings is a commitment ingrained in its very foundations. Yet this is a tower block with an interesting tale. One that in years to come, we could look back on and analyse the precedent that it has set.
Originally designed and built to provide high-quality, modern homes for the people of the East End after the war, Keeling House was Denys Lasdun’s vertical vision of the Victorian Terrace fused with some very Modernist and Corbusian ideas while maintaining ideas relevant to British lifestyle of the time. In this ‘cluster-block’, like in Sulkin House, Lasdun intended each dwelling to have access to air, light, privacy and views. Which is why we have this bold structure with 4 wings leading off a central service tower. The communal areas were purposefully located to encourage a sense of community similar to that which people had enjoyed in their terraced homes.
A mere 36 years after the building was completed, in 1993 Keeling House suffered poor maintenance and begun to crumble and fall into a dire state of disrepair. A Dangerous Structure Notice was served and the residents of Keeling House were being moved out of their homes by Tower Hamlets Council for their own safety. The council estimated that they would require £4 million that they just didn’t have to repair the tower and so Keeling House faced a very real threat of demolition. Fast forward to later in the same year and Keeling House was not only saved from the wrecking-ball but became the 1st post-war tower block to be given Grade II listed status. Tower Hamlets Council then sold the block to Lincoln Holdings (private developer) for £1.3 million in 1999. The now entirely privately owned Keeling House, has been extensively renovated. 4 penthouse apartments were added to the roof of each tower and the entrance houses a concierge and a glass entry foyer surrounded by gentle water features.
To put some perspective in today’s money terms on this. The block was bought for £1.3 million. £4 million was invested in the refurbishment. In 2000, a 2 bed maisonette sold for about £370,000. Last year, one of these sold for…….£600,000. I read somewhere that 30 of the 67 dwellings were bought by architects.
Keeling House is a happy/sad story for us as onlookers and emphasisers of these post-war housing architectural monuments. It would have been a great loss if the shortsightedness of Tower Hamlets Council had lead to it being demolished. However, it is a sad compromise that in order for these buildings to survive, they have to do so in the private sector. They were never built for the enjoyment of the wealthy but to support the people of the East End.
We walk around so many council estates and take for granted that we can get up close and personal to so many of London’s tower blocks. From here we can smell people’s cooking, hear the chatter of the young and the old. We can feel the community spirit that invisibly holds the towers together. We could only look at Keeling House from the other side of a metal divide under the watchful eye of a CCTV camera.
| Keeling House Info |
– Architect Denys Lasdun
– 16 Floors
– Comprises of 66.
– Completed in 1957
– London Borough of Tower Hamlets
| Links For The Curious |