Isokon Lawn Road Flats
Architect: Wells Coates
Grade I listed modernist apartment block designed as a progressive experiment in new ways of urban living
Year Built: 1934
This spectacular pre-war apartment block was originally built in 1934 as “an experiment in minimalism and communal living”. With its curved forms and pale render, Agatha Christie (a former resident) likened its appearance to a giant ocean liner run aground and it was the first ever apartment block to be built chiefly using reinforced concrete.
The block houses 34 apartments, most of which are relatively compact but apparently cleverly designed to make use of the available space. The architect and the couple who commissioned the building envisaged a happy community of ultra-sociable, design-conscious residents who would spend so much of their time with their neighbours in shared spaces (an in-house restaurant, bar, laundry and communal kitchen connected to the residential floors via a dumb waiter) that they would only need the smallest of private quarters to actually live in.
Apparently none of the residents really bought into the idea of communal living (they were reportedly just too British and reserved) so the shared spaces were converted over time into further flats and today, a nice little museum setting out the history of the place. Sadly, the museum does not contain a full reconstruction of a whole flat (as I half-hoped it might) but there is salvaged kitchen and bathroom to see, which are as reported, very small. Even without the full reconstruction, the museum is well worth a visit, if only to see the building’s spectacular exterior in person.
Flats do very occasionally come up for sale. Here’s one that themodernhouse.net sold recently for about £500,000: http://www.themodernhouse.net/past-sales/isokon-building/