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Missing? The Presences and Absences of Writing a Feminist Architectural History of Rosemary Stjernstedt 

Alton East 

Wandering through the estate, from Clarence Lane, it’s difficult to identity when West becomes East. I walk, anticipating a transition which never really comes. As the architecture unfolds, I keep asking - Did Rosemary Stjernstedt design this building? Can I sense a Swedish-ness to it? I try to trace the block names and colour schemes, but they are elusive and slip away. I wonder if I will recognise Stjernstedt in the buildings or landscape, what form this would take and if she could be sensed at all.  



I curve along Eastleigh Walk, passing terraced maisonettes and a semicircle of green. A sign ‘BEWARE! Chihuahua on duty!’ is pinned to a low wooden fence and adhesive stained glass is crudely stuck onto a front door. I hear the metallic groan of a gate behind me and the hiss of the 265 bus doors. Net curtains, some with scalloped hems, some detailed with petals and leaves, adorn windows. Flowerpots perch on bricks, raised to catch the morning light. White and pink roses spill over speckled concrete… 

I find it hard to sense the architecture amongst the tenants, their daily practices, and their transformation of the space. Stjernstedt, or any designer, recedes into obscurity on this low-rise lane. Instead, I see the people who continue to make and remake the estate. Eastleigh Walk is meant to be lived rather than viewed. There is pleasingly little for the passing architectural voyeur.  


I catch glimpses of point blocks through the trees, their light grey bricks and metal framed balconies. As I ascend, they momentarily reveal fragments of themselves. However, they are mostly obscured by each other, the trees, and the undulating landscape. The experience is incremental and successive. I hardly recognise the site from the plans and aerial photographs at the London Metropolitan Archives. There, the ten blocks were clearly laid out and simultaneously visible. I saw from an uninhabitable position.  

As I approach Witley Point, the façade remains stubbornly opaque. I can’t see the internal layout, amenities, or materials. I am utterly exterior to the block. I try to remember the specifications listed in architectural journals and pause to see if a resident will leave the entrance open. 


I am drawn to the point blocks, conscious of their uniquely Swedish design. Today, their jutting sections are emphasized by the direct sunlight and dense shadows. I wonder if this is where Stjernstedt is most palpable on the estate. I trace the perimeter of Hilsea Point, hoping to induce a sense of Stjernstedt through my physical motion. 



I’m surprised by the number of trees on the site. Yew, pine, holly, cedar, silver birch, walnut, lime and at least two other types which I can’t name.[1] They are inconsistently spaced and positioned, barely acknowledging the buildings. Thick roots rupture the ground, reaching towards the street curb and a copse crowds the recycling bins next to Eashing Point. I can’t decide whether the low-rise flats and maisonettes are integral or incidental to the landscape.  

As I walk amongst the cluster blocks, layers of brick and leaves alternate and give way. The architecture transitions into the landscape; facades are dappled with shifting shadows and ground floor balconies rest on green clearings. The buildings have settled amongst the site’s natural contours. Alton East doesn’t feel urban. The divisions between housing and park are soft and porous. It has been designed with an appreciation of what is, as well as what will be. 

I’m reminded of a remark made by Oliver Cox, ‘Stjernstedt was good on landscape’.[2] Stjernstedt grew up in Aberdyfi and moved back to Wales when she retired. She preferred to live rurally and was an enthusiastic member of a walking society for Welsh-speaking naturalists.[3] From this position, surrounded by coarse boulders and thick foliage, I feel as if I’m somewhere rural. 


Figure 1. 'Daily Practises'.
Photograph of roses on Eastleigh Walk, Alton East. Taken by author. 


Figure 2. 'Fragments'.
Photograph of point blocks behind trees, Alton East. Taken by author.

[1] ‘As much as possible of the park-like character of the site’ was preserved on the scheme, including ‘over 700 mature trees’. For more details, see ‘Housing Project to the LCC in Portsmouth Road, Roehampton, London S.W.15’, The Architects' Journal, 15 November, 1951, 588. 

[2] Conversation with Oliver Cox and Jean Cox, by Elain Harwood, 25 September 2002, provided 29 June 2022.  

[3] Interview with Rhisiart Hincks, friend of Rosemary Stjernstedt, 26 July 2022. 

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Figure 3. 'Projections'.
Photograph of Hislea Point overhang, Alton East. Taken by author.

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Figure 4. ‘Transitions’.
Photography of Hilsea Point, Alton East. Taken by author. 

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