Alexandra Road Housing
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Architect Neave Brown
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Location London, England, UK   map
Date 1969   timeline
Building Type multifamily housing, mid-rise apartments
 Construction System concrete
Climate temperate
Context urban
Style Modern


Photo of entry stairs and balconies

Photo, looking down inner lane

Photo, front of unit
Discussion Alexandra Road Housing Commentary

When I moved into Rowley Way in the Alexandra Road Estate some twenty-one years ago, the concrete was white and gleaming. At night the lighting cascaded up the stairways.

I recall opening my front door and taking a deep breath before walking up the road. I don't think many of us then would have imagined we would still be living here today, but many of us are. Our children are now young adults with some having children of their own.

Many people ask — "Have things changed?" The answer is yes and no.

Life often seems more leisurely looking back — we used to take our toddlers swimming in the little pool at the Shalev and Evans home (now demolished). It had an enclosed garden — they all learnt to swim safely there.

Our children could play in the parks till the sun went down. Although nowadays the parks are beautiful and support much wildlife, visibility is much reduced because of the dense vegetation. I feel sad when I hear people saying, as I did the other day, that they are taking their children to Paddington Recreation ground to play when we have a public park on our own doorstep.

We don't have the problem here of not knowing our neighbours — even if you haven't spoken to them, you still know them by sight. Privacy is impossible. The upside of this is good security — and besides after a while you learn how to live so close to people.

You can always tell visitors because they hang over the balconies looking into the flats, whereas nobody who lives here does that.

Sometimes you bump into people you haven't seen for years, presumably because the place is so big. This is inevitably followed by the question, "Are you still living here?" and "Any plans to move?"

I asked this the other day, to be given the reply, "I've been thinking — I rather like it here — my flat and my balcony — and hearing the birds sing in the morning — it's easy for me to get to work — why should I want to move?"

My own neighbours moved recently after eighteen years — not far though, just up the road to a bigger flat — I miss them.

I suppose if you asked me what I would wish most of all for Alexandra Road, it would be that everyone living here would want to live here — that and swift attention to leaks.

I found it interesting that one of the flats bought by one of the previous tenants, under the "right to buy" scheme, had been subsequently bought by two young adults who had been brought up here as children.

I have to hand it to the caretakers here who keep the place tidy — I think tight management would make everyone's a lot easier — still no one underestimates the challenges managing such a large complex brings.

I've always loved the airy feel of my flat. I never could afford to do much to it, so it remains pretty much like it was when I first moved in.

When I think about Alexandra Road it seems it has taken on a life all of its own — and there seems to be no stopping it.

It's an interesting place to live.

— Elizabeth Knowles, resident

A Peaceful Life

In the early 1970's I used to use Alexander Road as a short cut from Kilburn to Swiss Cottage and remember wondering how the unfortunate people living in those imposing but decrepit Victorian mansions survived the winters. They weren't wealthy enough to seal up the windows, how did they manage to heat their huge homes?

Ten years later, my council lottery number came up and Rowley Way was one of the offers. I was amazed to see what the council had done with Alexander Road. By now I had two toddlers and another baby on the way, so my choice was heavily influenced by this fact.I had turned down two other apparently much more desirable flats on the grounds that they did not meet my most basic requirements: safety for the children, personal comfort, freedom and adequate privacy.

I was looking for a home that didn't imprison; where we could sit outside without leaving home; I needed to feel my children were safe being outdoors, walking to the shops unaccompanied for instance. I was also keen not to be isolated, as so often happens to young mothers, and yearned to be part of a vibrant mixed community. Being a "foreigner", I was not constrained by classic English snobberies and preconceptions about public housing and viewed the estate with an open mind.

My first impression of Rowley Way remains vivid. The earthy red brick walk way and the dazzling white concrete structures had such a jolly Mediteranean feel. It was immediately possible to visualize it's potential as London's equivalent of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. As soon as you turn off the busy Abbey Road into the estate, it is calm and quiet.This seems a rare luxury so close to central London.

My 3 bed-roomed maisonette is flooded with light from every available source. Huge picture windows look out over a peaceful oasis of greenery and mature trees. Many a time I have sat and been simply uplifted by this lush view of nature or been stunned by the beauty of the sun burnishing the windows opposite with a copper glow. My utilitarian kitchen looks directly onto the brick walkway, which is particularly child friendly, and being pedestrian only (officially that is!) the children play safely there, within watching and shouting distance.

Older children have the playgrounds, which are overlooked by everywhere, thus allowing one to join a community of women with children who effortlessly watch over each others offspring from the comfort of their own homes.

I particularly love the simple clean lines of the flats; the sense of airy space despite their small size and low ceilings. I've seen interiors as diverse as Laura Ashley busy to Bauhaus austere, working equally well in these flats — they are well suited to transformation to personal taste. The walls are so thick that neighbors' noise rarely penetrates. One of the very best features, in my opinion, is the ingenious heating system, which, in the winter, is complete. No icy corners and draughty hallways, and no ugly radiators in sight.

I think, ultimately, the genius of the design lies in the subtle way it supports family life, and a community spirit without forcing it down our throats. It's as easy to be part of the community as it is to stay aloof.

For example, family units are constructed in such a way that only two families are forced, as it were, to be in extremely close proximity (sharing a basement stairwell, in our case). This makes it easier to deal with spatial conflicts.

I've heard people comment on "how inhuman" Rowley Way appears to them. I can only say that my experiences in over 20 years of living in Rowley Way have mostly been positive and very human. Whether you've lived here for 20 years or 20 minutes, people are invariably friendly, polite and sensitive. I believe the space somehow magically engenders this. My closest neighbors and I enjoy mutual respect, naturally, perhaps because we're neither below nor above each other, but side by side, living in peace and harmony. For this I have always been grateful.

— Su Cross, resident


Address: Abbey Road NW8 (Camden)

Sources on Alexandra Road Housing

Howard Davis. Slides from photographer's collection. PCD.2260.1012.1536.046. PCD.2260.1012.1536.046. PCD.2260.1012.1536.044

Sir Banister Fletcher. Sir Banister Fletcher's A History of Architecture. 19th ed, John Musgrove, ed. London: Butterworths, 1987. ISBN 0-408-01587-X. LC 86-31761. NA200.F63 1987. 720'.9. p1362A. — The classic text of architectural history. Expanded 1996 edition available at

Robert Maxwell. Architectural Review, August, 1979, p76-92.

Kevin Matthews. The Great Buildings Collection on CD-ROM. Artifice, 2001. ISBN 0-9667098-4-5.— Available at  Find books about Alexandra Road Housing


Web Resources
Links on Alexandra Road Housing

Alexandra RoadProject description at Roger Sherwood's

Alexandra Road Housing at ArchiplanetFind, add, and edit info at the all-buildings collaboration

We appreciate your  suggestions  for links about Alexandra Road Housing.

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