the heygate estate

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Simon Kennedy

London’s disappearing estates documented in new photography show

A group of artists have spent the last few years exploring London’s estates and blocks, documenting these brutal spaces after clearance and before demolition. An exhibition opening in Peckham this week will show their findings for the first time, in an underground space beneath an estate near the Old Kent Road.

Coming from photography, performance art and graffiti backgrounds, the artists who’ve put together the “Estate Agents” show focus on various aspects of these empty buildings – from infrastructure, life in the high rises, and pirate radio rigs, to Brutalist architecture – as well as the neglect and decay of the estates, which is particularly relevant in light of the Grenfell Tower disaster.

The Heygate Estate near Elephant and Castle was the first place the group discovered, in 2013. “It was a derelict no man’s land situated on the edge of Zone 1,” said Maëva Berthelot, one of the three artists involved in the project.

“The council evicted all the residents and the place slowly became deserted. This enormous Brutalist estate was completely emptied with the exception of few tenants who refused to move until the bulldozers came in. We were intrigued and wanted to see it for ourselves. It was such a vast and mysterious place – almost like a city within the city.”

The group – also made up of Andrew Gillman and Ivan Bliminse – are especially interested in documenting these spaces before they are lost to gentrification, as places that have given much to London’s culture but seem to be overlooked by society at large.

“What was once a model for utopian living in post war Britain was now deemed ugly and earmarked for demolition. It was often given bad press and used as a backdrop for crime scenes in TV dramas,” said Maëva. “It seemed to combine all of our interests: exploration, photography, graffiti and London history.

“After a while we realised the importance of photographing these locations. As London becomes filled with shiny glass towers, it seems that the traditional London tower block is now a dying breed. As many of the estates followed suit to Heygate and closed, it also gave our documentation a new meaning as a historical record.

“Each block is very unique. They all have so much to offer from the complex designs to the rich textures, the diverse colour-ways and the moody lighting.”

Despite showing their work now, Estate Agents is an on-going project: the group plans to continue documenting London’s blocks and estates.

 At this week’s show, there will be a zine for sale, with all proceeds going towards the families affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

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Estate Agents will be running July 13th (opening at 6pm) – July 16th at Ledbury Estate Garages, Old Kent Road Studios, SE15 1QP