To coincide with Jonathan Meades return to the small screen to celebrate Brutalism (Sunday 16th February BBC4), we present our guide to Brutalism in Metro-Land. As we hope we have have shown through our site, the suburban hinterland is not an empire of neo-tudor semi detacheds and pebbledash bungalows, but an area of varied and interesting modernist architecture. From Charles Holden’s brick box stations, to the art deco cinemas and houses such as Amys Connell’s High and Over. The modernism of the suburbs does tend to be of the modest International Style kind, but there are examples of it’s bigger, uncompromising brother, Brutalism, and the architects associated with it.
In a previous blog we have discussed the suburban work of one the most famous architects associated with British post war architecture, Erno Goldfinger. He produced a range of designs throughout Metro-Land, from houses to flats to shops. The most brutalist of his suburban designs is Hille House in Watford. A office and factory complex on the St. Albans Road in Watford, Hille House is an instantly recognizable Goldfinger building, with a reinforced concrete frame, and a central cantilevered box with coloured glass. Not far from Hille House on the outskirts of Watford is Sugden House, by a pair of architects who are as identified in Britain with Brutalism as Goldfinger, Alison and Peter Smithson. The house was designed for Derk Sugden of the engineers and architects Arup Associates, who wanted a “simple but radical” house. Alison Smithson’s initial design featuring a butterfly roof was rejected, and the finished house features a catslide tiled roof from a design by Peter, and an exterior of second hand London brick around a reinforced concrete frame.
Other architects strongly identified with Brutalism have built buildings in Metro-Land. Owen Luder, whose partnership designed some of Britain's most iconic concrete buildings like the Trinity Car Park, Eros House and the Tricorn Centre, has Colman House in Hayes and Hendon Hall Court. Colman House on the Uxbridge Road, completed in 1962, was built as an office block but has now been renamed Pointwest and converted to residential use. Hendon Hall Court, just off the North Circular, is an apartment block built between 1961 and 1966 in shuttered concrete with projecting balconies. Richard Seifert, designer of Centrepoint and Space House in Central London, also has a couple of buildings to his name in the suburbs. Ever Ready House was built in 1966 as the British headquarters of the American electrical company. The building is a 12 storey office block in a T-Plan on tapering stilts. The building has now been taken over by Barnet Council. Angel Cottages in Mill Hill use red brick and timber boarding to blend in to this picturesque outreach of North London, while still looking modernistic.
Aside from the famous names associated with Brutalism, there are a number of buildings built by the public sector in the style in Metro-Land. The Greater London Council Architects Department was responsible for a number of projects in the suburbs. The housing estate at Colindale, Grahame Park (1969-75), is probably the most famous (or infamous). A collaboration with the Barnet Borough Council Architects Department, Grahame Park was designed to house 10,000 people on the site of the old Hendon Aerodrome. The site features nearly 1800 homes, a library, community centre, schools and a shopping parade. The estate was remodelled in the early 1990’s by Barnet Council, and is today undergoing another redevelopment scheme. A neighboring housing scheme, Grahame Park West (also GLC and Barnet Arch Dept.), was more successfully received than its neighbour, and is today a private estate renamed Willow Gardens. Another GLC built project is the West Waste recycling centre in Ruislip. Built in 1980, it is a classic monolithic concrete block in the brutalist style.
Famous for featuring in that Brutalist roll call “A Clockwork Orange”, the Grade II listed Lecture Block at the Brunel University in Uxbridge is also an overwhelming slice of Brutalism. Designed by Sheppard, Robson and Partners and completed in 1966, the building is formed of an exposed reinforced concrete frame, infilled with precast concrete panels. A rather less spectacular, but equally interesting building is the Fernedene Apartments in Kingsbury, Brent. Designed as retirement apartments by former assistant to Basil Spence, Clifford Wearden, and built in 1966, the flats themselves are rather overpowered by the concrete ramp that fronts the building. Nevertheless, the complex forms an interesting contrast to the Ernest Trobridge cottages opposite.
This is just to show that you can find a wealth of brutalist and post war modernist buildings in the sleepy suburbs…..