2012 Highlights

David Roberts

1 May 2012

David Roberts

David Roberts is a MPhil/PhD student of Architectural Design at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. He is the author of ‘Reconnections’ a collection of concrete poems to be published later this year. David uses creative writing, photography, film and performance and has exhibited, lectured and published work related to architecture, housing, critical methodologies and site-specific practice.


FROM HEROIN TO HEROINES: Reviving Richardson in a ‘sink estate’

This paper will illustrate an unusual tale of literature interrupting the daily life of Londoners. It traces the journey of a condemned East End ‘sink estate’ and how its residents will come to spend their final days reviving the virtuous heroines of 18th Century novelist Samuel Richardson.

The residents of the Haggerston Estate know all too well that common woman and man can never spend long in utopia. The crumbling edifice of this inter-war estate typifies a familiar narrative. Its blocks were heralded as ‘homes fit for heroes’ only to deteriorate after years of neglect and acquire the label of ‘heroin capital of Europe’.

As residents await the demolition of their final block, a very different history has come to light. Archival research failed to unearth any original plans and records, the only fragment of the architect’s ambitions that remain is the curious naming. Each block is earnestly entitled after the virtuous protagonists from the novels of social reformer Samuel Richardson. Pamela, Lovelace, Lowther and Harlowe House have already fallen, only Samuel House still stands. For eighty years, residents have lived in the shadow of this virtuous intent, the paternalism that drove Richardson’s epics echoed in the ideals behind their housing.

A feature-length documentary has filmed the lives of residents over their journey, but following this literary discovery, it will incorporate elements of this period fiction. From April, residents of the estate will participate in weekly collaborative workshops, nurturing them to become the incarnation of Haggerston’s blocks and the embodiment of Richardson’s characters. A final act to transform the estate into a stage of virtue in its last breath.