Out in Zone 6, east of London in the borough of Havering, is a collection of modernist houses unlike any other in the country. Around a few streets in Gidea Park are 35 houses, all built as part of the 1934 Modern Homes Exhibition. Originally created as Romford Garden Suburb in 1911, Gidea Park already boasted 100 individually designed houses by architects such as Parker & Unwin, W. Curtis Green and C.M. Crickmer. Other architects who designed houses in Gidea Park at the time include Herbert A. Welch, who would go on to form the partnership of Welch, Lander & Day, and A.P. Starkey, designer of modernist cinemas. These first houses were firmly in the Arts and Crafts tradition of the early garden suburbs and cities, as seen in Hampstead and Letchworth.
The best example of the austere international modernist style is 64 Heath Drive by Tecton. This pioneering modernist firm was formed in 1932, and contained among its members the likes of Berthold Lubetkin, Denys Lasdun, Francis Skinner and Godfrey Samuel. It was Skinner who was the principal designer of 64 Heath Drive, and he was only 26 when it was completed. The house is constructed of reinforced concrete and set in a 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.
Most of the other 1935 houses are more of a compromise between modernist ideals and traditional comforts. Winner of the C Class Category was 15 Brook Road by J.R. Moore-Simpson. This house features a flat roof, brick walls and steel Critall windows, but none of the austerity or sophistication of the the houses already mentioned. The other 31 houses largely follow this template, “Modern” enough to be different from their 1911 predecessors, but not too radical to be frightening to the stockbroker belt. Almost all of the houses have been added to over the years, with tudorbethan embellishments and disfiguring extensions widespread. However many houses have been taken back to their original states, the best example being Tecton’s 64 Heath Drive, which has had its interior purged of fake beams, oak panelling and Spanish tiles amongst much else!
Modernist Semis and Terraces in England by Finn Jensen
London: East by Bridget Cherry, Charles O'Brien, Nikolaus Pevsner