While today’s Expos often leave behind curious wastelands dotted with rotting pavilions and coloured tarmac, occasionally garnished with clusters of private flats, it is heartening to remember that things were not always thus. The Dome of Discovery from the 1951 Festival of Britain may be long gone, the Skylon long lost at the bottom of the river Lea, but in Poplar, east London, the council houses of the Lansbury estate, built as part of the festival’s Live Architecture Exhibition, are still very much standing.
The brainchild of Frederick Gibberd, architect of Harlow new town, the estate came out of the premise that the only way to get the public interested in an exhibition of architecture, planning and construction was to build a real place they could walk through – and then actually live in when the confetti had blown away.
“The solution is to take a bombed or cleared site of four to six acres as near as possible to the site of the main exhibition,” wrote Gibberd, “to develop it as a cross-section of a neighbourhood, with such other additional permanent structures as may be necessary to complete the visual picture, providing such buildings are of ultimate use to the neighbourhood.” The “legacy” would be the thing itself, not something to be bickered over for decades after the event.
Aerial view of the Lansbury estate, 1951