Nicholas Grimshaw was born in Hove, East Sussex on October 9th 1939. After studying at Wellington College, he won a scholarship to the Architectural Association in London. There he met Peter Cook of Archigram, John Winter and Cedric Price. After leaving he formed a partnership with Terry Farrell, becoming the Farrell/Grimshaw Partnership.
Together, Grimshaw and Farrell designed houses, apartments and factories. There most famous designs were; 125 Park Road, an apartment block overlooking Regents Park with flexibly planned interiors, the Herman Miller building in Bath, a factory scheme clad in fibreglass panels, and also a service tower for student accommodation in Paddington, which added bathroom facilities to a Victorian terrace. The partnership went their separate ways in 1980, with Farrell pursuing a more Post Modernist style.
Grimshaw stuck to the Hi Tech, modernist path he had followed since leaving the AA. A number of his projects from the 80s and 90s have recently been listed; the Sainsbury superstore in Camden and its attached housing on the Grand Union Canal , the former Financial Times Print Works in Tower Hamlets and the Western Morning News offices in Plymouth.
Like his contemporaries, Norman Foster and Richard Rogers, his designs were in demand all over the world. His practice, now named Grimshaw Architects, have produced projects throughout Europe and in Australia and the US. Grimshaw was knighted in 2002 and was awarded the RIBA Gold Medal in 2019. The same year he stepped down as Chairman of the company but continues to be involved as a partner.
Buildings- Falling Lane, Grand Union Canal, Homebase Brentford, Sainsburys Camden
Open House London 2019 is approaching, taking place on 21st and 22nd September. There are hundreds of places to visit, covering 33 London Boroughs. As ever, there are plenty of art deco, modernist and brutalist buildings to explore. Usually in our roundup we list all the buildings we think are worth seeing. This time we thought we would take a more in depth look at 5 buildings we think are worth your time.
Furthest out from Central London is maybe the pick of the bunch. 64 Heath Drive, Gidea Park is a white walled modernist house, designed by Francis Skinner of Tecton. It was built as part of the 1934 Gidea Park Modern Homes Exhibition, which aimed to showcase the best of contemporary house design.The house is constructed of reinforced concrete and set in an L Plan with a roof terrace. The original intention was for this design to be part of a terrace, producing the effect of a long white wall. It won first prize in Category E of the competition, and is now Grade II listed having been restored inside and out. It is open Saturday and Sunday from 2.30-5pm for guided tours of the whole house (12 people max at a time) See the Open House page HERE.
Of the same style and era is Pullman Court in Streatham. An international style modernist block of flats, designed by Frederick Gibberd and completed in 1936. The estate consists of 9 blocks of varying heights containing 218 flats. Like Heath Close, Pullman Court is firmly modernist, with white walls, flat roofs and metal railed balconies. Internally the flats were up to date, including central heating and hot water, and had fitted furnishings such as wireless radio cabinets and electric fires. Pullman Court is open on Sunday from 10am-5pm. More information HERE.
Also built in the 1930’s, but very different from the modernist Heath Drive and Pullman Court is the former Tooting Granada Cinema. The art deco exterior of the building was designed by Cecil Massey, who designed many cinemas fro the Granda chain in the interwar years. The interior was designed by Theodore Komisarjevsky, a Russian emigre who specialized in interior design as well as being a theatrical director. The interior is designed in a medieval style, using wood, brick, masonry, mirrors and tiling to create a spectacular experience. As Ian Nairn said in Nairn’s London, “Miss the Tower of London if you have to, but don't miss this”. The former cinema is open on Sunday from 9am-12 noon, with a Guided building tour at 9.15am. Full details can be seen HERE.
Moving into the post war era is the Central Hill Estate in Dulwich. Built between 1967 and 1974, the estate is part of the great work of Lambeth Borough Architects Department under Ted Hollamby. The lead architect was Rosemary Stjernstedt, who filled the same role on the Alton estate in Roehampton for London County Council. Here the estate has 374 homes in a mixture of terraced housing and apartments, all arranged on the steep slopes of the hill. The estate has been rejected for listing and the current Lambeth council plan to demolish the estate, so see it while you can! On Sunday there will be resident-led tours between 11am-4pm, and a talk by residents at 2pm. The event page is HERE.
Over in West London is an opportunity to visit the brutalist Embassy of Slovakia in Notting Hill. Built as an embassy for Czechoslovakia in 1970, it was designed by the trio of Jan Bocan, Jan Sramek and Karel Stepansky, alongside Robert Matthew of RMJM. It is constructed of a mixture of prefabricated and in situ concrete sections in what Pevsner called “a snub to classical good manners”. Usually you get told off for trying to take a picture of the embassy, so this is a great opportunity to see it and take photos. The building is open to visit on Saturday and Sunday 10am-5pm, as well as hosting the Velvet Generation exhibition, featuring contemporary Slovak design to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. Read more HERE.
Of course we will also be hosting our own event for Open House, as our Stanmore art deco and modernist house walking tour enters its fifth year! We will be exploring the houses of the Warren estate and seeing how the expansion of the suburbs in the first part of the 20th century allowed the new styles of art deco and modernism to find their way into British architecture. There will be two tours on Saturday at 10am and 2pm, meeting opposite Stanmore tube station. All the details are HERE. We hope to see you there! Of course there are plenty of other buildings and tours that may interest you over Open House London weekend. You can check out all the buildings on the website HERE.
The Empire Swimming Pool and Arena was officially opened on 25th July 1934 by the Duke of Gloucester. It was built to be part of the 1934 Empire Games, and contained a pool measuring 200 feet by 60 feet, with facilities for ice skating. The stated aim of the building was to create a venue that would “create for Great Britain..the opportunity of establishing itself second to none in the swimming world”. The building, designed by Owen Williams, features three concrete span arches measuring 72 meters (236ft) with exterior supporting counterweight fins, and boxy water towers, giving it somewhat of a fortress-like air. The massive span arches avoid the need for internal pillars and give a maximum viewing field to spectators. The building of the Pool cost £150,000, the equivalent of £1.5 million today.
The original design for the building had curved fins, but these were dropped to simplify construction. The east end of the building was designed to open up, and led to sunbathing terraces and lawns, which have now been removed. The structure was built on top of the ornamental lakes from the British Empire Exhibition, which Williams had been involved in the construction of 10 years earlier. The Pool faced what was originally known as the Empire Stadium, (later Wembley Stadium), and also designed by Owen Williams, along with John Simpson and Maxwell Ayrton.
The idea for the arena came from businessman Arthur Elvin, who had bought the Empire Exhibition, including Wembley Stadium, in 1927. Elvin was keen to ensure the grounds continued being a tourist attraction, and so after making the stadium home to football he wanted to bring other sports to the area. As well as being part of the Empire Games, the arena was designed to hold ice hockey matches. After being used as part of the 1948 Olympics, it has come to be somewhat of a national treasure after its conversion to a popular concert venue. The building was Grade II listed in 1976, and since 1978 has been known as Wembley Arena. In 2012 it again hosted events for the Olympics, with badminton and rhythmic gymnastics taking place there.These days it is rather dwarfed by the various buildings going up around it, part of Brent Council’s remaking of the area.
The Empire Pool, along with the Boots Factory buildings in Beeston, probably mark the highpoint of Williams journey from engineer to architect. Williams had had some notable failures in his career, (the Dorchester Hotel, Dollis Hill Synagogue, Warren Fields apartments), often when architectural pretensions obscured the brilliance of his engineering. However, at the Empire Pool at Wembley, he balances both the function and the form, producing one of the best examples of “the New Objectivity” and looking forward to the concrete extravaganzas of the post war era.
London 3: North-West- Pevsner & Cherry
The Design and Performance of the Empire Pool at Wembley- Roy Perlmutter and Robert Mark
Owen Williams By David Yeomans, David Cottam
1964 saw the completion of a number of buildings in Britain that have gone on to be lauded as classic designs and listed, as well as influencing future architects. These buildings by Denys Lasdun, Basil Spence, Alison & Peter Smithson, Cedric Price and others have become exemplifiers of the era of the “White Heat of Technology”, the phrase made famous by Harold Wilson in his speech to Labour Party conference in Scarborough in 1963 (Wilson actually said “the white heat of this revolution” referring to the scientific advances of the time). Today this buildings are commonly labeled as “Brutalist” although their designers did not always feel kindly towards this term. The term brutalist has come to mean any large, concrete building from the 1960s and 70s, but the buildings we will examine from 1964 share a forward looking attitude, using a variety of materials in different forms and styles.
Harold Wilson was elected Prime Minister in October 1964, in part as a result of that speech in Scarborough, which looked forward to a technological future rather than towards an imagined past. Other harbingers of the future that included the first broadcast of Top of the Pops on New Year's Day, the agreement to build a Channel Tunnel in February and the abolition of the death penalty in November. That gleaming beacon of technological progress, the Post Office Tower, was completed on 15th July (although it wouldn't come into service until October 1965). Looming nearly 600 ft over Bloomsbury, the communications tower designed by Eric Bedford of the Ministry of Works was built as part of a network of Ultra High Frequency transmission towers, designed to boost telephone, radio and television communications. The tower was sited in Howland Street where the Museum Telephone Exchange sat, a small site necessitating the need for a small construction footprint. The tower was designed with an observation deck and a revolving restaurant, which was leased to Billy Butlin of holiday camp fame. The observation decks were closed in 1971 after an IRA bomb explosion, and the restaurant closed in 1980. The tower was listed in 2003, and remains as a glimpse of a space age future that never quite arrived.
A short distance away, another futuristic building was completed in 1964. What has become known as the Snowdon Aviary at London Zoo was completed in October. Although named after the photographer and then husband of Princess Margaret, who led the design team, the idea was brought to life by architect Cedric Price with Frank Newby of F.J. Samuely & Partners as the structural engineer. The structure is constructed of aluminium and steel, and arranged in four tetrahedra with steel cables holding the tubes and netting in place. The structure is designed to allow the birds room to fly and for a path through the space for visitors.The aviary is a clear forerunner to the High Tech buildings of the 1970’s and 80’s produced by Norman Foster, Michael Hopkins, Richard Rogers and others. Foster + Partners are currently renovating the aviary for the actual 21st century.
Another building in the same vicinity as the Post Office Tower and the Snowdon Aviary, and also completed in 1964, is the Royal College of Physicians. Opened on November 5th, and designed by Denys Lasdun, this building on the edge of Regents Park has become one of the few post war buildings to achieve a Grade I listing. The building contains conference rooms, offices, a library, a lecture theatre and a dining room. A prestressed concrete frame forms the structure, with the lower volume of the building clad in dark brick and the upper in pale grey mosaic tiles, part of Lasdun’s brief for the building to fit in with the older terraces surrounding it. The overhanging volume containing the library is held up by three pillars. Inside the building balances everyday functions with ceremonial spaces, and features a freestanding staircase.
Slightly further to the north than the previous trio of buildings is Swiss Cottage Library by Basil Spence, which was opened on November 10th by Queen Elizabeth II (she also opened another library by Spence the same week, at the University of Sussex). It was designed as part of a civic center planned for the borough of Hampstead. With the reorganisation of the London boroughs (the elections for the new boroughs was held in April 1964), only the library and swimming pool part of the plan was built , with the swimming baths and their William Mitchell concrete designs demolished in 2002. The library is a rounded lozenge shape, with three storeys above a basement book stack. The exterior features vertical fins of Portland stone, designed to control sunlight and muffle traffic noise. Between 2000-3, John McAslan & Partners refurbished the building and remodelled the site.
Opening on December 10th was the Economist buildings on St. James Street, Westminster. The buildings were designed by Alison and Peter Smithson, who had brought brutalism to Britain with their school in Hunstanton, Norfolk in 1954. Here the Smithsons replaced an older set of buildings with three towers of varying height on a raised plaza, a piece of Chicago transplanted to higgledy piggledy Central London. The buildings are constructed around concrete frames with Portland sandstone facades and metal windows. The plaza featured work by Eduardo Paolozzi, and is itself formed of slabs of Portland stone. The scheme is now Grade II* listed and undergoing refurbishment by DSDHA.
1964 also saw the completion of a number of other modernist buildings of interest in Britain. Opposite Hampstead Heath, 9 West Heath Road by James Gowan was completed for furniture designer Chaim Schreiber, the house fitted with furniture also designed by Gowan. With its sombre appearance and strong vertical emphasis, it’s draws from the same language as the Economist buildings. Another private house completed that year is New House in Shipton-under-Wychwood, Oxfordshire. Designed by Stout and Litchfield for prominent London barrister Milton Grundy in 1964, New House has an interesting composition of five linked pavilions with mono pitch roofs, and a Japanese gravel garden. The house, constructed of local Cotswold stone, was Grade II listed in 1998. It was used in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film of Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange.
A couple of apartment blocks from this year are also worth noting. Corringham in Craven Hill Gardens, Bayswater was designed by Kenneth Frampton alongside the firm of Douglas Stephen & Partners (whose own The Mount apartment block in Kensington was also competed in 1964). Internally, Corringham is arranged in a scissor plan, with each flat having split levels with bedrooms facing east and living rooms and kitchens facing west. Externally the block is formed of an exposed reinforced concrete frame, with prominent steel ventilation units. Further west in White City is Malabar Court, an old people's homes designed in a hexagonal form by Noel Moffett for the LCC. Moffett designed a number of social housing projects with distinctive hexagonal shapes or projecting balconies across London, most of which are still in use such as Ashington Court in Bethnal Green.
Of course no mention of futuristic architecture in 1964 could be complete without mention of Archigram, the architectural design group known for their colour illustrations of projects that never got built. Two of their most famous ideas, the Plug In City and the Walking City were published in 1964 via their own magazine. Both ideas saw technological megastructures replace the traditional organic city, with buildings truly becoming “machines for living in”. These ideas would filter down to the next generation of architects, such as Richard Rogers and Nicholas Grimshaw, influencing their Hi Tech designs of the 80’s and 90’s.
As we have seen, in 1964, the era of the “White Heat of Technology” was reflected by the completion of a number of buildings that would go on to be hugely influential and later on listed. Today they can be seen as moments to optimism and the belief in the power of technology to overcome the problems of humankind. That idea seems quaint nowadays, but these buildings live on to remind us that we can use architecture to reflect ideals rather than as just a way of creating capital.
London 4 : North- Pevsner & Cherry
London 3: North-West- Pevsner & Cherry
Atlas of Brutalist Architecture
British Buildings 1960-64
British Public Library Buildings- Beriman & Harrison
This Tuesday July 9th 2019 sees the 85th anniversary of the official opening of the Isokon building on Lawn Road in Belsize Park. The stark modernist apartment block, also known as the Lawn Road Flats and designed by Wells Coates for Jack and Molly Pritchard, was declared open by Miss Thelma Cazalet (later Cazalet-Kier), an early British feminist and then Conservative MP for Islington East. Cazalet errounesley thanked “Russell Coates” for designing the building and broke a bottle of beer on the side of the Isokon to declare it open.
Construction on the building had started in September 1933 after a stuttering fruition. The Pritchards had originally wanted a house for themselves on the site. The brief then changed to two houses, then to two houses and a nursery school before settling on an apartment block designed to provide inexpensive flats for young professionals. The finished building provided 22 flats for single people, named “minimum” apartments, as well as larger apartments, a caretaker's flat and the penthouse apartment occupied by the Pritchards.
Inside, the flats were fitted out with space and labour saving fixtures and fittings, including sliding tables, electric cookers and lighting. The furniture was mostly in plywood and manufactured by the Venesta furniture company, who Jack Pritchard worked for. Food was also available from the communal kitchen, first as room service then as part of the Isobar, converted by Marcel Breuer and FRS Yorke in 1936. Breuer was an early tenant of the building alongside Walter Gropius, Arthur Korn, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and later on novelist Agatha Christie. Externally the building was formed of reinforced concrete, using the 10ft 8in module which reflected the width of the flat's main room. This meant no internal supporting columns were needed, allowing the spaces to be open plan and flexible.
Like most interwar concrete buildings, the Isokon suffered from weather related deterioration, with the roof, walls and windows needing repair after World War II. The postwar period was not kind to the building. After being sold to the New Statesman magazine, the building passed into the ownership of Camden Council in 1972, falling into disrepair, becoming essentially derelict and abandoned by the 1990’s. As part of a competition, the building was acquired by the Notting Hill Home Ownership Housing Association and refurbished by Avanti Architects. The building now provides 25 flats as shared ownership to key workers, and 11 flats for sale.
The building was Grade I Listed in 1999, and the former garage was converted into the Isokon Gallery in 2014, as a permanent display (open Weekends, March to October) telling the story of the building and its inhabitants. Today, the rejuvenated Isokon building stands as a monument to an earlier age, when the idea of designing an avant garde yet affordable building was not a pipe dream, as well as reminding us of the impact of one of the earliest modernist buildings in the country.
The Spa Green Estate in Islington was officially opened on April 29th 1949 by Herbert Morrison, Deputy Prime Minister. This was over 10 years since it had been originally designed, with its construction delayed by World War II. The original design was by Berthold Lubetkin and Tecton. By the time of the estates completion Tecton had been dissolved with the post-Tecton partnership of Skinner, Bailey & Lubetkin responsible for its completion. The roots of the building of Spa Green lie in the radical interwar Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury council, who looked to eradicate the debilitating effects of poverty in their area; lice, ricketts, diphtheria, etc; by the construction of new housing, medical and educational facilities. Tecton were the firm they chose to build this brave new world. The first Tecton building for the borough; the Finsbury Health Centre; opened in October 1938, and was hailed as setting new standards in modernist architecture and in public health in Britain.
After this success, the borough pushed on with their plans, looking to build a number of new estates to improve housing standards. Tecton produced a plan of an estate on Rosebery Avenue (later named Spa Green) in 1938, but building was postponed due to World War II. The foundation stone was laid by then Minister of Health Aneurin Bevan in July 1946, and the estate was officially opened in 1949. The finished estate consists of three apartment blocks, two of eight storeys and one of four storeys, containing 129 flats of varying sizes. The blocks are formed from concrete eggcrate box frames, developed by Ove Arup & Partners as consultant engineers. This system allowed the buildings structure to be completed quicker than using a monolithic concrete frame. The exteriors are broken up with alternating brick or tile infill and balconies with grey ironwork.
The apartments have an aspect on each side their blocks, with the bedrooms facing the away from the street towards the quieter courtyard areas. The apartments also featured Garchey refuse disposal systems, as well as central heating, fitted kitchens and heat and sound insulation. The roofs of each block feature an aerofoil shaped section designed to facilitate the drying of clothes. The estate was refurbished by Islington Borough in 1998.
At the same time the Spa Green estate was commissioned and designed, Finsbury Borough also asked Tecton to design an estate a little further north, replacing Buscao Street. The first part of the estate, which became known as Priory Green, also opened in 1949 and finally completed in 1957. Once again, the estate was planned in the late 1930’s, but building was put on hold due to the war and later material shortages, with building recommencing in 1948. The largest of the three estates designed by Lubetkin for Finsbury, Priory Green is laid out to match the original street pattern and has 12 blocks of apartments, plus a circular laundry and boiler house. The blocks were built with the same method as the Spa Green buildings, and include six eight storey blocks, arranged in two groups and four four storey blocks which run in parallel. The slightly austere finish of the estate was enlivened by a concrete relief by Kenneth Hughes and internal murals by Felix Topolski.
Skinner, Bailey & Lubetkin built a third estate for the borough on what had been Holford Square. The most prominent section is Bevin Court, a Y-shaped block with 130 flats. The completion ceremony was held on 24th April 1954. The interior of this block features a stunning central staircase, which Pevsner calls “one of the most exciting C20 spatial experiences in London”, as well as a entranceway mural by Peter Yates. Lenin had lived in Holford Square from in 1902-3, and Lubetkin was commissioned by the Russian Embassy to design a monument to sit in the gardens opposite his former home. It was repeatedly vandalised between its unveiling in 1941 the 1990s when it was finally placed in the Islington Museum. Two more smaller blocks make up the scheme, Holford House, a four storey block of maisonettes, and two storey Amwell House, added in 1958.
The partnership, with Lubetkin concentrating on the ill fated Peterlee New Town design, produced a number of other housing estates for London boroughs. The Hallfield Estate in Paddington was planned by Tecton pre-World War II and finished by Denys Lasdun and Francis Drake between 1951-58. In what is now Tower Hamlets, they designed three estates for Bethnal Green Borough Council; the Dorset Estate (1951-64), the Lakeview Estate (1953-6) and the Cranbrook Estate (1955-65). The practice also designed a lesser known estate in Tabard Street, Southwark (1965). However, the three Islington estates remain the most famous public housing works by Lubetkin and an apt reminder of his saying that “nothing is too good for ordinary people”.
London North- Pevsner
Berthold Lubetkin: Architecture and the Tradition of Progress- John Allan
Lubetkin and Tecton- Peter Coe
Wembley began as a settlement beside the ancient Harrow Road, part of the manor of Harrow. In 1792, Humphrey Repton was employed by the Page family to convert their farmland into a country estate, which became known as Wembley Park. In 1880 the Metropolitan Railway extended their lines through Wembley Park to Harrow, buying a portion of land from John Gray to do so. before nine years later buying the whole of Wembley Park. This would be a pivotal moment in the history of the Wembley and the suburbs, and would lead the way to the creation of Metro-Land.
The Metropolitan Railway, led by Sir Edward Watkin, wanted to turn Wembley Park into a perfect suburb full of commuters using the Met to get to work in London. Of course Wembley was still some distance from what was then considered London, and so a means of attraction was needed to bring people out. This was to be Watkins Tower and the pleasure grounds built around it. Designed to exceed the newly built Eiffel Tower, the firm of Stewart, MacLaren and Dunn won the design competition with a plan for 1200 ft steel tower The tower was to include restaurants, theatres, ballrooms, a hotel and a sanitorium. Building began in 1892 with it opening to visitors four years later when the building had reached 155 ft. The design had been switched from 8 legs to 4 to save money, but that choice would led to major subsidence.
After a busy beginning, the crowds dried up and the money for the construction ran out. In 1902 the tower was deemed unsafe, and it was decided to demolish the half built tower, with the foundations being dynamited in 1907. The area around the pleasure ground started to be developed, with houses being built to form Wembley Park Village, all in the tudorbethan style. The next event to draw people to Wembley was the British Empire Exhibition of 1924.
The exhibition was planned with the stated aim of an exhibition "... to enable all who owe allegiance to the British flag to meet on common ground and learn to know each other.”. The design of the exhibition buildings was largely by Maxwell Ayrton and John Simpson, with Owen Williams appointed as the engineer. They designed and built a range of buildings in the Beaux Arts style, including national pavilions for almost every country in the Empire, as well as pleasure gardens, shops, restaurants and an amusement park. However the centrepieces of the site were to be the Palaces of Industry, Arts, Engineering and Horticulture, alongside a national sports stadium.
The national sports stadium proved to be the most famous building constructed for the exhibition, the Empire Stadium. Known worldwide as Wembley Stadium, the home of English football. The stadium and its iconic towers lasted until 2003 when it was demolished to make way for the new stadium on the same site by Foster + Partners and Populous.
The national pavilions reflected each countries architectural styles, with Buddhist temples , Chinese markets and African huts appearing in the Middlesex countryside. The design of the Palaces were much less exotic but just as impressive. When completed, the Palace of Engineering was the largest reinforced concrete building in the world. It covered 13 acres and featured five internal railway lines to help move the exhibits. Like all the buildings in the exhibition, the Palace of Engineering was intended to be temporary, but managed to survive until the 1970’s. The Palace of Arts lasted until 2006, when it was demolished to make way for a car park.
The Palace of Industry managed to last until 2013. slightly smaller the the Palace of Engineering, at 10 acres, it is made up of a number of halls enclosed with glazed pitched roofs. The pre-cast concrete was reinforced and partly painted and channelled to appear like stone. It was the first building in Britain to use concrete for external as well as internal support, and despite its classical style, it had a hulking, modern look.
The site also included a bridge, praised by Ian Nairn in his “Nairns’ London”, “a concrete bridge moulders away among the weeping willows and beer cans. Crisp and angular, it must be one of the best things we did in the twenties- true English modernism”.
The only two remnants of the exhibition are what is left of the India Pavilion and a refreshment hall. The India Pavilion was jointly modelled on the Jama Masjid in Dehli and the Taj Mahal in Agra and designed by the firm of Sir Charles Allen and Sons. Inside it was divided into 27 courts each focusing on products from the 27 provinces of India. Unfortunately the centrepiece central dome section is no longer there, but the the flanking buildings remain. These buildings have been turned into businesses, one is Latif Rugs, the other is Stonemanor Ltd. A bit further west is the former refreshment hall, now home to several companies, including Rubicon the soft drinks manufacturer.
The exhibition itself had a great impact on the expansion of Wembley and Metro-Land. Despite grumbles that the site was too far from central London, over 10 million people visited the exhibition in its first 6 months, and nearly 27 million made the journey before the close of the exhibition. For many of these visitors it was their first visit to the Metro-Land suburbs, as Sir John Betjeman noted, previously Wembley was “an unimportant hamlet where the Met didn’t bother to stop” but afterwards it became a growing suburban centre. To compare the numbers; in 1921 Wembley had a population of 18,239, 10 years after the exhibition it contained 121,600 people, an increase of 552%
(For comparison the 2011 population was 90,045).
The British Empire Exhibition has all but disappeared, with only a few remaining relics, subsumed under Wembley’s ferocious bid to reinvent itself as the Stratford of the West. The exhibition is not as fondly remembered as the Festival of Britain 27 years later, it’s title and aim seeming antiquated in the 21st century compared to the futuristic buildings that appeared on the South Bank. But it is a shame that some of the buildings by Ayrton and Williams have not been preserved, considering their pioneering construction, as well as their place in the growth of the suburbs.
Phantom Architecture- Philip Wilkinson
Semi Detached London- Alan A. Jackson
Nairn’s London- Ian Nairn
Modern Buildings in London- Ian Nairn
London 3: North West- Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner
Owen Williams- David Yeomans and David Cottam
These notes were first written for the 20th Century Society tour "Wembley and the Making of Metro-Land" held onSaturday 27th October 2018.
The Piccadilly line had finally extended out east from Finsbury Park in 1932, with Charles Holden's new stations reaching up to Cockfosters. Those eight stations were among the first set of public, modernist buildings, a coherent set of designs opening between September 1932 and July 1933. The western extension stations did not open in the same way. They appeared here and there from 1931, with new stations being built until 1938. One of the earliest and most influential was Sudbury Town, opening in 1931, the first appearance of Holden's “Sudbury Box”, a design that he would tinker with for the rest of the decade.
The stations of Boston Manor and Osterley, part of the extension to Hounslow, were both opened a few days apart in March 1934. Osterley opened first on March 25th, alongside the Great West Road, only 10 years old at that point. The station had been relocated from the earlier Osterley & Spring Grove station which had been located 300m away. The design of the new station departs somewhat from the previous box designs used elsewhere on the line, by introducing a thin finial tower on top of a low station building. The original design for the station was prepared by Stanley Heaps, chief architect to London Underground, with a large box style station. This design was set aside and Charles Holden and his assistant Charles Hutton produced a new more compact design, largely the one we see today. The 70ft high tower acts as a prominent advert for the station and the Underground, helping the one storey station stand out alongside the busy road. The concrete finial on the tower seems to be influenced by a similar design on top of De Telegraaf building, Amsterdam (1930) by J.F Staaf & G.J. Langhout. A long glazed corridor was included in the design of the passengers footbridge over the platforms.
Boston Manor, one stop east from Osterley, was opened on March 25th 1934. The new building replaced the original station which opened in 1883 as Boston Road. The station was again designed by Charles Holden with Charles Hutton, and once more the design breaks with the previous rectangular standard. Like Osterley, the plan consists of a low station building, topped by an eye catching structure, this time a slim tower featuring glass bricks, and a back-lit bar and roundel symbol, showing a strong Constructivist influence, and very reminiscent of Dutch architect Jan Bujis’ De Volharding Building in The Hague (1928).
Holden and the CEO of London Transport, Frank Pick, had taken a trip to Europe to see the new modernist designs of the continent in 1930. They visited Germany, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands, so it is very likely they saw both De Telegraaf and De Volharding buildings. The large area of glazing seen at Osterley was repeated here with a the panoramic window overlooking the platform area. Both buildings have a reinforced concrete frame with brown brick on the exterior. Both stations had had served the District line as well as the Piccadilly from their openings, with the District services were discontinued in 1964.
The eye catching design of both stations was something encouraged by Frank Pick, who wanted the stations to stand out from their surroundings, and communicate speed, modernity and ease of use. Holden was more minded to use the box design he had first introduced at Sudbury Town, believing it to be the logical solution to problem of passenger flow. He would return to the box in his later stations such as Eastcote and Rayners Lane. However, Osterley and Boston Manor are fascinating examples of the influence of Dutch architecture and the De Stijl art movement on Holden and British interwar architecture.
Bright Underground Spaces- David Lawrence
Charles Holden- Eitan Karol
Piccadilly Circus station was opened in 1906 by the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway Company for their line which connected Regents Park and Elephant and Castle. Later that year platforms for the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton line would open, allowing commuters to travel between Hammersmith and Finsbury Park. Of course these railways lines would later become the Bakerloo and Piccadilly tube lines, as part of London Transport. The original station had a street level ticket hall designed by Leslie Green, but the increase in passenger numbers meant a new station need to be built after just 20 years. In 1907 the station had 1.5 million passengers use it, but by 1922 that had grown to 18 million.
The only space to build the substantial new booking hall area was underground. Charles Holden, who had been bought into the fold by Frank Pick a couple of years earlier, designed the new station. Work began on the new booking hall in February 1925, with the new hall opening on 15th December 1928. The old booking hall stayed open until 1929, and was demolished in the 1980’s.
Charles Holden’s new design created an underground elliptical ticket hall with several entrances from street level. Something similar had been built at Bank a couple of years earlier, but Holdens design bought an elegant solution to the problem of passenger circulation. The ticket hall roof is formed of reinforced concrete supported by seven steel columns, with another 50 smaller columns around the hall. The project required a complex arrangement of tunnels to serve as passenger escalators up and down to the platforms; something best seen in Renzo Picasso’s illustration.
Holden’s design for the station did not involve the engineering side, which was already underway when Holden was bought into the project, but his station design but a beautiful face on an awkward arrangement. The station plan mirrors the above ground circus laid out by John Nash in 1819. The interior of the ticket hall was finished in cream travertine marble, with bronze metalwork used for one of the first times on a London Transport building and white tiles for the flooring.
Above the escalator, a mural by Stephen Bone was commissioned, showing London as the centre of the world, and Piccadilly Circus as the centre of London. The world clock also links the station and London to the rest of the world, turning in time with the spinning of the Earth, allowing passengers to see what time it is in a place of their choosing. The ticket hall also featured a variety of shops, allowing for all weather shopping.
The finished result was widely praised and visited, notably by members of the Moscow Government who were looking for inspiration in creating a new subway in the Soviet city. Nikita Khrushchev would lead the city authority in building the spectacular stations of the Moscow Metro, and in turn would influence Holden in his design for Gants Hill station. Architect Erich Mendelsohn was also a fan of Piccadilly Circus, once sending Holden a Christmas card reading “wishing you many more Piccadilly Circuses”.
The station was renovated in the 1984 and Grade II listed the same year. In 2016 an artwork by Langlands and Bell was installed to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the death of Frank Pick. As of 2016, the station has nearly 42 million entrances and exits by passengers, but still Holden’s design endures, allowing passengers to circulate to their destinations as the buses and cars do above them.
Bright Underground Spaces- David Lawrence
Charles Holden- Eitan Karol
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The name Richard Seifert has become synonymous with the commercial tower blocks of the 1960s and 70s that his practice built so many of in London and throughout the UK. Buildings like Tower 42, the NLA Tower and of course Centre Point are prime examples of Seifert’s projects; towering concrete high rises, often planted on small plots that been bomb damaged in World War 2. Of course, the practice produced many other building types, with houses, railway stations, hotels and hospitals all built by Seifert.
Richard Seifert was born in Zurich on 25th November 1910. His family moved to Britain when Seifer tas young, and he would enrol in the Bartlett School of Architecture in 1927, graduating in 1933. Seifert set up his own practice in the 1930’s, and served with the Royal Engineers during World War 2, achieving the rank of Colonel. He resumed his practice after the war, designing a number of buildings in a slightly out of date art deco style including a synagogue in Tottenham, a cinema in Paddington, a factory for Rival Lamps in Brighton and flats in Chiswick.
It was at the start of the 1960s that his practices designs began to come to attention, with speculative tower blocks such as Tolworth House in Kingston and Space House in Holborn. These buildings were designed by George Marsh, one of Seifert's partners, and his use of concrete, often in precast units, chimed with the contemporary style of brutalism. Seifert and Partners designs were not the raw Breton Brut of others like The Smithsons, but a more commercially palatable use of concrete that allowed buildings to be constructed quickly.
The most famous building associated with Seifert is Centre Point at the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street in London. Again designed by George Marsh, this 36 storey block built for developer Harry Hyams was famously left empty for 15 years as Hyams insisted on a single tenant leasing the whole building. Centre Point was Grade II listed in 1995, with Space House also being listed in 2014 (along with Alpha Tower in Birmingham).
His practice would design over 500 office blocks all over the UK before his retirement in 1984. Buildings like the Natwest Tower, the tallest building in Britain when completed in 1981, would reach higher and higher, with ever more complicated engineering requirements and ever longer planning battles. However, his practice could design at the other end of the scale as well. Angel Cottages in Mill Hill, North London are a group of four houses in brick and weather boarding, overlooking a pond. Mill Hill was Seifert's home, where he bought a semi detached house and extended it as well as building a house for his daughter in the grounds.
Seifert's reputation, which had suffered in the 1980s, came around in the 1990s with the listing of Centre Point, and continues to celebrated with the renewed interest in post war buildings. Unfortunately many of his buildings are now being demolished to make way for a new wave of commercial tower blocks, and the campaigners who once fought against designs are now trying to save them.
A Guide to Modernism in Metro-Land, our guidebook to help you discover the suburbs best art deco, modernist & brutalist buildings is crowdfunding now. Go HERE to get your copy.