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Art & Design

Brutal London: Estates for Art's Sake

New model kits fetishise the capital's council estates while erasing the people who actually live in them

A London based graphic designer has created a series of build-at-home models of some of London’s most iconic brutalist buildings. The cut-out-and-keep models, called Brutal London, consists of miniature versions of London brutalist estates (as well as the Space House in Holborn, an office block), each one coming complete with graffiti tags and decrepit satellite dishes, alongside a guide to each of the buildings including information on the architect and the year they were built.  

But it doesn’t stop there. Estates make wonderful tote bags, giant letters and notebooks. I mean they look so beautiful - once you remove all trace of the people who actually live there.

David Navarro, Art Director and Martyna Sobecka, Project Manager who work for Zupagrafika, the design company behind the models explained why they chose to recreate the estates:

“We decided to have a closer look at London`s brutalist icons, such as Balfron Tower, as well as some council estates similar to the ones we get in Poland, and we discovered the ones we planned to visit, Heygate and Aylesbury, were already either partially or entirely demolished. It led us to think we should catalogue them before they disappear.”

When the Aylesbury estate was sold off in 2014, Southwark council came under fire for offering residents to accept property values at under the market rate, meaning residents who were being forced out under Compulsory Purchase Orders were left unable to buy another property in the capital. The BBC reported that one resident, Beverley Robinson, who owns her property, has been offered £117,000, yet two independent valuators estimated the property was worth £300,000. 

When asked if they approached the community when designing the models, the designers replied: “The residents at first were a bit puzzled by us taking countless photos and carefully studying the facades, however with time they seemed to have got used to our being around.”

Available in shops from March, the models reduce the legacy of the once Utopian ventures into communal housing into a series of "edgy" maquettes, designed to be displayed on coffee tables dotted around luxury flats. Imagine walking past a coffee-shop cum cyclist's community cafe, only to see a model of the place you once called home, repackaged and sold alongside limited edition David Shrigley mugs and pocket synthesizers?

This isn’t the first time council housing has been as art. For the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth games, Glasgow city council did a U-turn after decided it would be a good idea to blow-up the Red Road flats in some sort of homage to the Sony Brava paint adverts but then caved in after everyone thought that using the destruction of people’s home as an ode to regeneration was in pretty bad taste. 

Of course, the council never admitted to the lapse in judgment, citing health and safety as the reason for axing the world’s worst demolition since this failed one in Ukraine, which left the building looking like the leaning tower of disaster.

*This article was updated at 10.45 am on 10/02/14 to clarify that not all buildings represented in the model series are housing estates. Richard Seifert's Space House is an office block

Caroline is the section editor of Art & Design at Little Atoms. She has written for The Guardian, Vice and Dazed & Confused.

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