The Hungarian emigre architect Erno Goldfinger (1907-87) is best remembered for his brutalist tower blocks around the edges of central London, such as Trellick Tower in North Kensington, Balfron Tower in Poplar and Alexander Fleming House in Elephant and Castle. These tower blocks, so divisive when first built, are all now listed by English Heritage, and are magnets for architectural students, designers and photographers. Goldfinger also produced modernist schools in Haggerston, Shepherds Bush and and Putney. But Goldfinger has another legacy in the suburbs of London, which host some of his more uncharacteristic and lesser known works. These buildings, stretching from Hampstead through North London and out to Buckinghamshire, show a different side of Goldfingers work.
Aside from his iconic tower blocks, his most famous work is the terrace of 3 houses at Willow Road
in Hampstead (1939). No. 2 was Goldfingers home with his wife Ursula Blackwell and their children, until his death in 1987. Built on the site of a row of 18th Century cottages, the terrace is constructed of reinforced concrete, with the outer walls faced with red brick. Nos. 1 and 3 are still private residences, whilst No. 2 has been taken over by the National Trust, who have preserved the interior as Erno and Ursula had it, including works by Bridget Riley, Marcel Duchamp and Henry Moore. Like Goldfingers later tower blocks, Willow Road was initially controversial, with its presence in the heart of Georgian Hampstead the subject of complaints from his new neighbours. But like Trellick and Balfron, Willow Road has become an iconic member of Goldfingers works.
Further along the Northern Line at Golders Green is one of Goldfingers more obscure buildings. No.2 Golders Green Road
was originally designed in 1935 as hairdressing salon, but was converted into a shop for S. Weiss ladies clothing. Situated on a corner of the High Street, Goldfinger planned the redesign and rebuild of this site to include a curved glass second floor. Goldfinger also redesigned the interior of the shop and its fittings. This building still exists today as a bank, with the curved glass second floor still intact. Goldfinger also designed some other shops around the same time, including a toy shop in Wimpole Street
, W1 and a hair salon in Grafton Street, Mayfair.
On the outskirts of London in Watford, is Hille House
, probably the most recognizably Goldfinger designed building in Metro-Land. Built in 1959 for the Hille furniture company, this factory and office complex was built on the site of an old Wells brewery and workers cottages. The building is constructed using a reinforced concrete frame, with a Uxbridge brick infill. The front of the offices also features the first use of a Goldfinger signature, a cantilevered box with coloured glass. This design was used on some of Goldfingers most famous buildings like the Trellick and Balfron towers. Goldfinger also produced designs for an enlargement of the site, including a factory, boiler house and timber store, although these designs were never executed. Today this building on the St.Albans road is a business centre, but many of Goldfingers original design details are still in place.
Just outside Watford, in Abbots Langley, Goldfinger was commissioned by Watford Rural District Council to build a social housing estate. The architect originally designed a nine storey block of maisonettes, but this idea was rejected by the council and instead a modified plan of mixed terraced houses and small apartment blocks was accepted. The site was opened in 1961 by the Swedish Ambassador. As with much post war social housing in the UK, Gade View Gardens
was allowed to deteriorate until it was unlivable. In 2009 the council put forward a plan to demolish the building and redevelop the site. Due to the credit crunch the redevelopment languished until last year when most of the buildings were knocked down and replaced by new flats. However there is still a row of terraced houses from the original plan intact and occupied on the Gallows Hill Road side of the site.
Out the at the edge of Metro-Land, near one of its most iconic buildings is the Red House, in Cherry Lane, Amersham. Less than 2 miles from High and Over
by Amays Connell, the Red House is one of Goldfingers most conventional designs. It is built in traditional materials of brick and timber, has a tiled pitched roof and was completed in 1957. It has been refurbished by subsequent owners, but does still show Goldfingers touches in it’s use of light and space. Goldfinger also designed many rural houses around the South East of England, including a house in Broxted, Essex (1938) for painter Humphrey Waterfield, later renovated by John Winter, and Benjamins Mount (1967-9) in Windlesham, Surrey.
There are also a number of unbuilt Goldfinger projects throughout the Metro-Land region mentioned in his archives at RIBA. These include houses in Hounslow, and Oxhey and Bushey in Hertfordshire, a shop for Dunns Footwear in Watford and flats in Finchley Road. The archives also show two other much more interesting unexecuted ideas by Goldfinger. First, plans for a fun fair and restaurant on Hampstead Heath for the Festival of Britain in 1951. Goldfingers reputation was in the doldrums at this point and the only thing he got to design for the festival was a kiosk
. A sketch of the fun fair, seemingly from the viewpoint of his home at Willow Road, can be seen here
. Goldfinger also applied to be the chief architect and planner for the development of Stevenage New Town, a position that went to Leonard Vincent. It raises the tantalizing idea of a Goldfinger designed concrete utopia!
Now so identified with brutalist tower blocks, Goldfingers suburban buildings show another side to his craft. Ranging from private houses to commercial premises to factory and office complexes, these buildings show the range of materials and designs Goldfinger employed. Willow Road remains the only one of theses that is listed, and despite the architects reputation (or because of?) some like Gade View Gardens have been demolished. It would be a shame if more of these buildings were forgotten and destroyed as they show that Goldfinger was not just Brutalist supervillain, but an artist and craftsman of great range and subtlety.
65 years ago today in 1948 a number of stations on the Central Line east and west extensions opened. Among them were West Ruislip
, South Ruislip
, Ruislip Gardens
and Northolt in the west and Loughton
in the east. These stations had been planned in the 1930's but their construction was delayed by World War 2. When they eventually came to be built many of the designs had to be redrawn to take account of the post war material shortages. This most affected the stations on the west end of the extension, with F.F.C. Curtis' designs for South Ruislip and Ruislip Gardens adjusted by Kennet and Turner. On the east extension Loughton, (designed by John Murray Easton), although opened in 1940 as part of the London and North Eastern Railway, became part of the Central Line on the same day. The other stations to become part of the Central Line on 21st November 1948 were Grange Hill, Chigwell, Roding Valley and Buckhurst Hill.
Walter Segal (1907-1985) has become synonymous with the Self Build movement which he did so much to champion through his architecture and writings. He developed a system of house building that relied on readily available materials and tools, and minimal technical expertise. Structures were defined by timber frames, using paving slabs as foundations and flat felt lined roofs. “Wet trades” such as bricklaying and plastering were eschewed in favour of cladding, lining and insulating. Due to their technical limitations, the design of these houses tend to resemble old English or Japanese frame houses, in their simplicity and functionality. The most famous estate of Segal inspired Self Builds is in the borough of Lewisham, where in the mid 1970’s the council allocated some unused and commercially unsuitable land for self building homes. It still remains there to this day, a typically understated monument to the Segal vision of self sufficiency.
Segal was born in 1907 in Berlin and lived there with his Romanian Jewish parents until 1914, when they moved to a utopian community in Monte Verita, in Ascona, Switzerland. Segal later studied architecture back in Berlin and also Delft, the Netherlands. In 1936 he moved to London and met Eva, an architectural student at the AA. They married and lived in Highgate, and took on commissions together. During this time Segal also wrote for magazines such as Building and Architect & Building News, as well as books on architecture, beside his architectural work. Eva died in 1950, and Walter was later remarried to Moira Scott. It was at Scott’s house, in the shadow of Highpoint, that Segal produced his first self build home, for himself. While the family home was being demolished and rebuilt, they lived in a self designed and built house in the garden that took two weeks to build and only cost £800.
As well as his self build ideas, Segal also left behind a number of buildings he designed. Most of his buildings are homes in London and the South East, but two of his early commissions where the Tretol Offices
(1955) in Burnt Oak, and the Premium Pickle Factory in Hackney (1958). Examples of his house designs can be seen throughout North London, in Mill Hill, Golders Green, Hendon, Hampstead and Highgate. Two of his most interesting house designs are St. Anne’s Close
in Highgate (1951) and 4-5a Tasker Road
, Belsize (1963). St. Anne’s Close is a group of houses built by Segal for himself and his friends in the shadow of St. Anne’s Church. The houses themselves are not radical in design, but traditionally constructed of brick and have pitched pantiled roofs. The innovation comes in the communal layout of the close, with the houses around a shared green and unfenced gardens. A vision of cooperative middle class living nearly 20 years before it would become fashionable. Viewed from street level the houses in Tasker Road seem to form a complete contrast to the bucolic St. Anne’s Close. The frontages of the three terraced dwellings are windowless, with the only features a front and garage door. However behind the severe brick fronts, the houses are formed of long spacious rooms, with the back of the buildings glazed floor to ceiling and facing on to south facing garden courtyards. This set of houses were the last Segal created in brick, before dedicating himself fully to his self build ideas through the 1970’s and to his death in 1985.
At the time of his passing in 1985, Segals ideas were the opposite of the prevailing architectural fashions and economic theories. Extravagant Hi-Tech and Post-Modernist buildings dominated the urban landscape, and the housing bubble had started expanding, helped by the introduction of the Right to Buy scheme. Nearly 30 years later, the wheel has turned, and Segal’s ideas of cooperation, sustainability and self reliance have become fashionable again in an era of credit crunch, Grand Designs and eco consciousness. Of course Segal’s ideas will never become redundant, and will always be relevant to those wanting to use collective effort to create a better world.
George Coles (1884-1963) is one the most famous, and certainly most prolific, architects of the Golden age of Cinema building. He grew up in Leyton, East London where his mother ran a sweet shop, and he attended Newport Road School and later Leyton Technical Institute. After beginning a career in architecture, Coles formed a partnership with Percy Henry Adams in 1912. Their company acquired a reputation for their cinema designs, and they produced many designs for Oscar Deutsch’s Odeon chain, as well as numerous other Cinema chains. Most of their designs were built in the Greater London area, but they also appeared in Brighton, Bournemouth, Halifax and Sheffield ,among others.
Two of his most celebrated cinemas are the Gaumont State Kilburn
(1937) and Muswell Hill Odeon
(1936) both Grade II* listed. These two designs show the range of Coles designs. The Gaumont State cinema has a monumental facade with a central tower finished in cream coloured faience and a lobby that is panelled with green vitrolite. It is a great example of the more is more school of cinema architecture that proliferated in the interwar period.
The Muswell Hill Odeon by contrast takes a more pared down, moderne approach. It has a curved frontage, again clad in cream faience, but without the frills of the Gaumont. This was partly down the opposition of the church across the street to having a cinema so close. The interior was subsequently made to be lavish and luxurious in contrast to the more sombre facade. The cinema design is one of the only remaining interwar cinemas influenced by German Expressionism.
Of the nearly 90 cinemas that Coles designed the vast majority are no longer cinemas, and a significant proportion have been demolished altogether. But some still survive intact to show Coles designs, and we will be tweeting some of these over the next week.
Among the leading architects of interwar British Modernism, like Charles Holden
, Joseph Emberton, Connell, Ward and Lucas
and others, a pair of names is often forgotten, that of William Thomas Curtis and Howard William Burchett. W.T. Curtis was the Chief Architect for Middlesex County Council from 1930-46, and H.W. Burchett was the Assistant Architect for Educational buildings. Between them they designed and built a swathe of modernist public buildings throughout Middlesex, from Twickenham in the west to Enfield in the east. The majority of the buildings they created were educational, such as primary and secondary schools and technical colleges. But they also designed and built libraries, health centres and hospitals. The majority of the buildings they created are still intact and operating in the capacity they were built for. A number of them have been granted listed status.
The Middlesex County Council Architects department was created at the turn of the 20th century, mainly to design and built schools. The buildings they created up to the outbreak of the First World War were generally Edwardian Baroque, with a move to a more subdued classicism after 1918. The Wall Street crash and world financial crisis of 1931, one year into W.T. Curtis’ reign, forced a change in the departments’ designs in order to cut costs. Aiming to reduce spending by 30%, Curtis and Burchett adopted a more modernist utilitarian approach to school building. Their first innovations were using steel framing at Uxendon Manor School, Wembley (1934)
, and then concrete slab floors supported by pillars at Pinner Park School (1934)
. These techniques allowed flexibility in internal planning, whilst also keeping the traditional Victorian school courtyard layout.
These technical advances produced buildings with long, flat roofs and wide window spaces, giving the schools a “strong horizontal emphasis” as Pevsner noted. Curtis and Burchett often countered this horizontal effect with a central stair tower that became their signature. This tower motif was clearly influenced by the work of Dutch architect W.M Dudok and his school at Hilversum. This design tended to work better on their larger Secondary schools, such as Greenford County (1939, now demolished)
and Heathfield School, Pinner (1937)
, and Technical colleges in Enfield
A few of the schools Curtis and Burchett designed are now listed. De Bohun
primary school in Oakwood, built in 1936, was Grade II listed in 1994, and features a square red diaper brick central tower. It still operates as a school, and the adjacent library, also designed by Curtis and Burchett, is now a nursery. Lady Banks Junior School
in Ruislip was also built in 1936 and Grade II listed in 1989. The central tower is rounded, unlike at De Bohun, and this was echoed in their later school designs at Kenmore Park, Queensbury (1938)
and Stanburn, Stanmore (1939)
. Lady Bankes is also notable for the use of two colours of bricks, pale orange and beige. Other decorative additions used by Curtis and Burchett included stone window fins at Belmont, Harrow (1935)
and bands of tiles at Evelyn’s, Yiewsley (1936).
Two other listed sites show Curtis and Burchett’s range of public buildings. Kenton Library (1938)
was listed in 1999, and is one of the best surviving examples of inter-war library design in London. Unlike their school buildings, many of Curtis and Burchett’s libraries have been demolished. Kenton is an L-shaped building around a brick and glass central tower, and features a simple, open internal layout. The Bowes Road Complex
in Arnos Grove, completed in 1940, is their most ambitious work. It features a Library, Swimming Pool and Health Clinic in a similar fashion to contemporary health centres like Peckham (Williams, 1935)
and Finsbury (Lubetkin & Tecton, 1938)
. The three separate buildings display all of Curtis and Burchett’s motifs, the Library with its central tower, the swimming pool with its long streamline horizontal and the health clinic’s L-shaped plan.
Despite not being feted as some of their illustrious contemporaries, the work of Curtis and Burchett had a far-reaching influence. Curtis’ predecessor as County Architect, C.G. Stillman, also felt their progressive influence. Stillman was hugely influential in the design of post war school building, using industrialized methods of school construction and design.But perhaps their most lasting legacy is the fact that the majority of their buildings are still intact and being used for the purpose they were designed for, which is more than can be said for many modernist architects.
A further update to our recent British Empire Exhibition blog. Despite believing that the soon to be demolished Palace of Industry was the last remaining remnant of the exhibition, it appears there may be one or two more....
The site of the 1925 exhibition covered 216 acres, south from Wembley Park station to the present day Wembley Stadium, a small area to the west of this and a much larger area to the east. The majority of the area to the west was made up of national pavilions, providing a taste of the architectural traditions and produce of the nations of the empire. This included such sites as a Burmese pagoda, Nigerian adobes and many more. This area is now made up of industrial units and offices, which replaced pavilions which were demolished or removed to other places.. However it seems there may still be some remnants of the exhibition in this area.
Aerial Image of the India Pavilion 1924.
The most interesting and obvious one in the Indian Pavilion. The pavilion was jointly modeled on the Jama Masjid in Dehli and the Taj Mahal in Agra and was 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 centerpiece 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. That they are the remains of the India Pavilion can be quite clearly seen by comparing an image of the present day area from Google Earth with the same area from a map of the exhibition.
Part of the India Pavilion, now Latif Rugs.
Much of the outside of the buildings has been covered in metal cladding but a look at the side of the structure shows a similar makeup to the Palace of Industry, which was constructed of concrete and precast concrete blocks.
Detail showing the outline of the India Pavilion in 1924.
Detail showing the outline of the Latif Rugs and Stonemanor premises 2013.
Another building a bit further east also appears to be a leftover from the exhibition. It again seems to be constructed from a similar material to the Palace of Industry and the India Pavilion, and the shape of the building is the same on Google Earth and the exhibition map. According to a map in Sir Owen Williams 1890-1969 by David Cottam, it is a canteen or restaurant. This building now contains several companies, including Rubicon the soft drinks manufacturer.
Former canteen building, now Rubicon offices.
Detail of map showing the canteen buildings in 1924.
Detail of map showing outline of Rubicon Offices 2013.
I have no verification for these buildings at the moment, but the evidence points towards them being relics of the exhibition. If so they will be the only remaining structures from the period and an important piece of Metro-Land and Brent history. Of course given their track record we won’t be expecting Brent Council to spring into action and support the listing of the buildings, but at least there will hopefully be some traces of the British Empire Exhibition when its 100th anniversary occurs in 2025.
As expected, Quinlan Estates application to replace the Palace of Industry
with a car park was approved last Wednesday night by Brent Planning committee. Further reading of the application indicates that the demolition of the building was already scheduled to begin before the meeting http://democracy.brent.gov.uk/ieDecisionDetails.aspx?ID=2309
Of course having been delisted in 2004, no permission was actually needed for the demolition of the structure, just for the construction of the car park.
Despite objections on historical (from Wembley History Society), as well as environmental grounds, the car park was approved. It was suggested that the remaining facade of the Palace could be kept intact for the 90th anniversary of the exhibition in 2015, but this was vetoed on safety grounds. Of course Brent hasn't got the best track record in preserving its built history, as was seen in the debacle over Willesden Green library
However, having previously thought that this was the last remaining part of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, it seems there may be another...
The decision by Quinlan Estates
to submit an application to demolish the last remaining building of the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley, prompts us to revisit that event, its buildings and the impact it had on the growth of Metro-Land.
An exhibition to celebrate the Empire and the individual countries within it had been mooted before the outbreak of the First World War. The idea was resurrected in 1919 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.’ A site to the north west of central London on the Metropolitan Railway was chosen, Wembley Park. The selected site had already had one great attraction built there, Watkins Tower
, also known as Watkins Folly. An attempt to build a London rival to the Eiffel Tower, Sir Edwin Watkins’ (MP and Metropolitan Railway chairman) vision failed due to lack of funds and subsidence. It was abandoned halfway up and demolished in 1907.
The architect chosen to design the scheme was Maxwell Ayrton
(1874-1960), a Scottish architect who had been an assistant to Edwin Luytens. His assistant for this project was Owen Williams
(1890-1969) who up to that time had worked on a number of engineering projects involving steel and concrete. The exhibition was to feature pavilions for the Government and almost every country from the Empire,(Gibraltar did not take part), 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, and 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, it was designed by Aryton alongside John William Simpson, famous
for his school designs. The stadium and its iconic towers lasted until 2003 when it was demolished to make way for the new stadium on the same site.
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 Industry 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.
A similar threat is facing the Palace of Industry,
the only remaining part of the Exhibition. 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 concrete was partly painted and partly channeled to appear like stone. It was the first building in Britain to use concrete for external as well as internal support, and this despite its classical style, gives it a hulking, modern look.
Until recently it has been a delivery depot, but it now faces the threat of demolition, taking with it the last remaining piece of not just the British Empire Exhibition, but any remnant of an temporary exhibition in Britain from the 19th or 20th centuries. The popular 50th anniversary of the Festival of Britain two years ago showed the enduring fascination with these great exhibitions. How much better would those festivities have been if the Skylon or Dome of Discovery been intact? The 100th anniversary of the British Empire Exhibition is only 11 years away, it would be a great pity if there was no material artefact to remember it by.
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, and was one that helped boost the growth of the North-West suburbs over the next ten years and beyond.
This is where we will be posting various blogs on Modernism in Metro-Land. Upcoming blogs include the British Empire Exhibition, Curtis and Burchett and Central Line Post War stations. When a new blog is published we will let you know via our Twitter and Tumblr pages. Enjoy!