Abigail loves the pattern of contained flats; on one hand its the repetitive living space – neat units of conformity and function – that make for an interesting abstract pattern. Out of the windows you see signs of life, a vibrant and colorful scene. You also see glimpses of faces.
As a part of this blog series that gives the personal perspectives of people living in London’s council estates, I would like to introduce the collages of Abigail Aked. Abigail is a graphic designer/illustrator from Hackney, East London who has lived on an Estate for three years. What I found interesting about her estate was that it was completely surrounded by other estates, making it feel like a miniature council estate town.
In post-war London, East London was heavily bombed so most of the terrace housing was flattened. In order to add more social housing, large council estates were built in the late 1940’s. Many of their residents have been there for decades.
When Abigail first moved here it was really run down. It had the original windows from the 1940’s, the old bath, and poor plumbing. Hackney council neglected this social housing project and little improvement work was done on it. When Abigail moved in to the flat, pigeons lived on the roof and the unit lacked double-glazing and proper garbage disposal. There was no security and several individuals had put in bars on the front doors of their flats for security.
Because her building is a high-rise and she lives on the fifth floor, it’s very well lit and includes good views of Hackney and parts of the London skyline. She says it’s always been locals who’ve lived there in cramped conditions and that most of the improvements have been superficial. New windows and sand blasting of exterior with recycling bins in the yard and additional security were installed to entice private investment and sales to non-locals.
Abigail says there are plenty of kids, teenagers, and ‘hoodies’ on the street that hang around the corner of one of the buildings, but contrary to popular belief, they are quite benign and polite. They have a ghostly presence because they are rarely heard and wear hoods at night while cycling.
Most of her neighbors are families and Abigail is woken up on most weekday mornings by the sound of small children playing outside in the grounds of a day care centre that is in the middle the estate. Also in the middle is a basket ball court, an adventure playground, and a church. On Sundays, loud choral singing can be heard from the gospel church resonating all around the surrounding states. The council are trying to transform it superficially as the area is being gentrified. Abigail says although most of the flats are council owned now, about 30% will soon be privately owned.
As a graphic designer, Abigail says she sees the vast number of council estates surrounding her building as lines, patterns, and shapes. To her, it’s the mark of town planning and design. There are many geometric shapes and the interiors are spacious because they were well planned for large families in the past. The latest trend in new social housing tends to be tiny interiors that only perpetuate cramped conditions.
Abigail keeps a blog of her work. Here are some of her collages:
This is a representation of the front door to her estate surrounded by four large buildings. When the light shines through on an Autumn day, you get a good view of people’s balconies. You also get the feeling that although everyone is encapsulated in their flats, their is a larger story about communal living. People have made their mark on their living environment; a few balconies have been extended to enlarge the living space within. Some have washing lines while other keep birds on their balconies (one of the residents is a pigeon breeder). Several flats leave their doors open permanently with loud, blaring reggae music. In the image, a youth hangs out in the foreground, making the viewer wonder which what he’s waiting for.
A view from the top floor of Abigail’s corridor. She enjoys this view, even though it is obstructed by the metal grid. She likes the patterns of this industrial structure. When the light shines through, the pattern is enhanced. It is utilitarian and serves a purpose with its abstract shape. She has collaged images of children’s faces that play below her flat (those whose voices can be heard from the playground). It’s a reminder of social divisions; she’s never too sure whether the barbed wires and the grids are to keep people out or keep people in. All the children know is that they are being kept within. There is also an angry dog. Animals, pets and children are neatly contained in these divisions and boxes.
A pigeon flies above a playschool down below. London is awash with pigeons, some of which live on this estate. The vermin bird flies freely above a very rigid and self-contained structure. The brick work and lines are visible in this image.
Abigail started growing plants from the second year of living there. The troughs are made within the architecture of the wall of the balcony. There is just enough space for three people to sit and enjoy the view from the small balcony. She grew strawberries, chilies, peppers, peas, chives, mints, tarragon, lemon verbena, and thyme. From this view you get a huge vista of London Olympics, the regeneration of Hackney, and the view into other estates. From this balcony, she once witnessed a fight between a youth gang and an old woman. A kid punched an old lady and they then chased her away. Luckily, she says, this type of activity doesn’t happen often.
Post by Seemab Gul.