'Transparent Modernist terrace houses at Victoria Park'

89-98 Gore Road terrace façade

89-98 Gore Road terrace façade - Credit: Gordon Shrigley.

Since we decided some 5,000 years ago to forgo the travails of nomadic life for living behind walls, we have tended to build our homes next to each other in clusters, rather than isolated within the landscape.

The decision to huddle together in one place was desired for many reasons, but primarily I suspect to guard against being eaten by wild animals or pillaged by those tribes who preferred to continue wandering.

The peace of mind that living behind walls encouraged has since led to the belief that the construction of walls allowed civilisation to flower. 

To counter this widely held view, one only has to consider the fact that the first use of the atom bomb on the city of Hiroshima was dropped by the descendants of the first wall builders on other wall builders, to start to wonder if the building of walls really led to further enlightenment or only to more sophisticated forms of violence.

The history of urbanism is sadly then not always a good news story, as however sophisticated human cultures like to think they are, the crimes of genocide never seem too far away. 

However, we can perhaps all agree that the desire to cluster together behind walls has certainly allowed us the physical space to develop forms of culture and politics that have at the very least, weakened the general human will to power and desire to dominate others.

One very popular form of clustering is the terraced house.     

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The English terraced house was first associated with Georgian high society townhouses, which provided the landed gentry of the time with stylish and affordable places to stay for short jollies in London, whilst also retaining their country estates. 

In later periods, as the peasantry moved into the industrial cities of Manchester and Liverpool, the grand terraces of Grosvenor and Bedford Square were redesigned as small back to back row housing. Later with the emergence of the middle-classes at the end of the 19th century, a front and rear garden was added to create the now ubiquitous Victorian terraced house that we all know and love.

The root of the word house is to hide and we can perhaps see this manifest in the history of the terraced house, which generally contains more walls than windows, keeping what goes on inside largely private.

To counter the tradition of the "hidey-hole", Modernist architects sought to radically open up the protected interior to public view through large areas of glazing, metaphorically inviting the street to enter the house.

The best example of a largely transparent terrace of Modernist houses in Hackney is 89 to 98 Gore Road, designed by architects John Spence and Partners in 1966 for the Crown Estate.

89B-90 Gore Road front façades

89B-90 Gore Road front façades - Credit: Gordon Shrigley.

Within 89 to 98 Gore Road each façade has more than 50% floor to ceiling glazing, that is subtly controlled by the addition of vertical balcony balustrades that obscure oblique views, but open up the interior to the street, when you stand directly in front of each house.

89 to 98 Gore Road acts as a unique and successful experiment in exposing domestic life to view, but also as a physical metaphor for wider democratic transparency, that both counters the instinct to hide behind solid brick walls and the need for legions of twitching net curtained windows.

Gordon Shrigley is an architect and writer.