A revolutionary, no-nonsense cooked clod of clay has given South Kilburn a new lease of life. But can the rest of the rundown estate live up to its refreshed streetscape?
If 1960s housing was known for concrete panels, the 1980s for cartoonish pediments, and the 2000s for tacky (sometimes fatal) clip-on cladding, the current epoch will be remembered for bricks. But not just any old brick. It is a yellowish, biscuity brick, whose particular patina falls somewhere between a digestive and a Hobnob. It is a brick that summons strains of the traditional London stock and Cambridge gault, suggesting a crunchy, crumbly, wholesome goodness, no matter what actually lies behind the facade. It is the comforting Hovis ad of cladding choices, a no-nonsense cooked clod of clay, which comes with an unlikely name: Mystique.
The irrepressible rise of the Mystique brick can be traced back to its use on one particular housing project in Cambridge, which won the Stirling prize in 2008. With its combination of terraced streets, mews houses and courtyards, the Accordia development was a refreshing bolt of common-sense design that would influence the next decade and more of British housing. In an age when new blocks of flats looked increasingly cheap, the low-rise buttery brickwork suggested a new era of weight, depth and permanence, a return to front doors on the street, housing as it used to be.