Streets in the Sky

Alison + Peter Smithson (A+PS)

As well as looking at current trends and ideas, its good to reflect on past concepts too.

Post WWII England celebrated victory at a huge economic sacrifice, seen in the shortage of housing and social services. Slums were associated with terrace houses and architects felt responsible for social improvement through built form.

Alison and Peter Smithson were two British architects that strove for a universal architecture by rationalising and simplifying into four functions: dwelling, work, recreation and transportation.

Their photographer friend Nigel Henderson was fascinated with the strong sense of community fostered in narrow, terraced streets. See below, his photographs of everyday scenes in East London’s Streets in the 1950’s.

A+PS were interested in one’s connection to the city, donning  the ‘hierarchy of human association’: individual – house – street – district – city. See their diagram below.

They reasoned that residents of apartment housing lost the first point of contact with the world: the street.

human assoc street

They tried to counteract this by introducing ‘streets in the sky’ -widened circulation corridors. See below, their illustration for the Golden Lane Project. -Note Marilyn Monroe in the foreground!

These streets were intended as locations for social exchange similar to a residential street.

Contrary to their intentions, other than the consideration of ‘street’ width, there was little incentive for residents to stay or interact, and the horizontal circulation became little more than widened thoroughfares, sometimes resulting in back alley, ‘ghetto’ situations such as the Robin Hood Housing Scheme (illustration above).

See photo below of Park Hill, Sheffield; a Smithson inspired development with widened circulation.

Despite mixed success in their realised projects, A+PS’s ideas represented a commitment to humanism in architecture, and their ideas remain pertinent today.

With current trends towards vertical gardens, green roofs and walls, CAN these ideas be revised and reapplied to current developments?

Post update -Robin Hood Gardens Estate set to be demolished August 2015. In light of this tragic news check out this short video created to reflect the recent news:




Banham, Reyner, 1961, “Apropos the Smithsons”, New Statesman, No. 62

Mumford, Eric, 2000, “The CIAM Discourse on Urbanism, 1928-1960”, The MIT Press, Cambridge

Smithson, Alison, 1967, “Urban Structuring: Studies of Alison and Peter Smithson”, Reinhold Published Corporation, New York

Smithson, Alison, Smithson, Peter, Bakema, Jacob, van Eyck, Aldo, van Ginkel, Daniel, Voelcker, John, Hovens Greve, Hans, 1968, “Doorn Manifesto”, Team 10 Primer, Smithson, Alison, The MIT Press, Cambridge, p75

Smithson, Alison and Peter, 2005, “The Charged Void: Urbanism”, The Monacelli Press, New York, Edited by Spellman, Catherine, Unglaub, Karl, 2005, “Peter Smithson: Conversations with Students”, Princeton Architectural Press, New York

Vidler, Anthony, 2003, “Toward a Theory of the Architectural Program”, October, Vol. 106, The MIT Press, p59-74

Webster, Helena, 1997, “Modernism Without Rhetoric: Essays on the work of Alison and Peter Smithson”, Academy Editions, London

All images are linked to their internet sources

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