Category: Open House

Elephant and Castle 20th Century Society Tour

I recently attended a 20th Century Society walking tour around Elephant and Castle, taking in the various housing estates, the much maligned shopping centre and the interiors of Draper House and Metro Central Heights (aka Alexander Fleming House) by Ernö Goldfinger.

Seemingly one of the last areas in zone 1 to undergo complete regeneration, Elephant and Castle has (regrettably in my opinion) seen major change in recent years to revamp its down-at-heel, brutalist image. The 42-storey Strata tower (the one with that hideous fan thing on top) was completed in 2010, One The Elephant (another rather bland 37-storey tower) was completed in 2016 and a number of further new high rises have planning permission. The shopping centre, which has been scheduled for redevelopment for about 30 years, is apparently (finally) going to be demolished later this year.

This was where the the walking tour started. Designed by Boissevain & Osmond and opened in 1965, the shopping centre was one of the first US-style indoor shopping malls in Europe with enough space for over 100 retail units spread across on three levels surrounded by public space and incorporating the railway and tube stations. Unfortunately, it never really took off as a retail destination and fell into disrepair over the years. Walking around it on the tour, there were glimmers of the architects’ vision for a shopping centre of the future: light and airy concourses with daylight reaching deep into the building (not something that could be said of either Westfield shopping centres), neat design touches such the rainbow panelled ceiling, terrazzo marble flooring and striking red staircases.

30183824_unknownimg_1848

Next on the tour was Draper House, a 25-storey tower forming part of the Draper Estate. Designed on 1958 and completed in 1963 under the principal housing architect HJ Whitfield Lewis, it was constructed with a reinforced concrete frame with pre-cast floor and cladding. We were invited in to walk across a striking if rather austere and prison-like walkway on one of the upper floors but unfortunately not inside any of the flats, which I understand to be spacious and split level in a lot of cases.

Other sights on the tour included the Lubetkin-designed Dorking House (unremarkable but for a great “1965” sign), the slightly overwhelming Symington House (a fortress of ice white and blue) and an strange pale-coloured structure (I’m not entirely sure what purpose it served – a communal seating area? Parking?) attached to a towerblock that looked an awful lot like La Villa Savoye in Poissy.

The last stop on the tour was Metro Central Heights (previously Alexander Fleming House), a vast concrete complex built between 1959 and 1967 by Hungarian-born modernist architect Ernő Goldfinger (also responsible for Trellik Tower). The multi-winged, multi-storey building (55 metres at its tallest point) housed the Department of Health and Social Security until 1989 after which it sat empty until 1997 when it was converted into around 400 residential apartments and renamed Metro Central Heights.

Alexander Fleming House, as it was

I’ve always had the impression that the conversion wasn’t particularly well executed: flats in the building that I’d seen online looked oddly proportioned and fitted with ugly late 90s kitchens and bathrooms inconsistent with the era of the building. In addition, while I can understand why they decided to freshen the original and very brutal concrete facade by painting over it, I’ve never liked the rather hospital-like white and blue colour scheme.

img_1845

My negative impression of the building was mostly dispelled after the tour. The internal courtyard, with its unexpected Japanese garden was striking, the communal areas were well kept (the lift lobbies featured the original stained glass windows) and we were told that management has plans to paint the blue exterior panels a more appealing colour in the near future (the options were various shades of putty).

img_1844

Unlike the ugly examples I’d previously seen online, the flat that we were invited in to see was light-filled and well-proportioned though the owner did concede that it took a while to find a flat in the building as good as this one. The Modern House currently has a similarly nice example for sale on its website.

Historical photos courtesy of a Google search…

64 Heath Drive, Romford RM2

64 Heath Drive, Romford RM2
Grade II listed modernist villa
Architect: Lubetkin & Tecton
Year built: 1934

My third and final Open House visit this year was to a stunning modernist villa all the way out in Romford, Essex. Amongst the first works of architects Lubetkin & Tecton (who went on to design iconic modernist estates such as Highpoint and Priory Green as well as the penguin enclosure in London Zoo), it won first prize in the Gidea Park Modern Homes Exhibition held in July-August 1934, costing only £900 to build.

img_6954

64 Heath Drive, which was made out of painted reinforced concrete and had a flat roof, looked a bit incongruous on a street full of mock Tudor, pink cottages and stone water features. It was apparently designed to be one of a row of similar, low cost modernist houses that would give the impression of one long white wall but these houses were never built.

img_8230

The house had an interesting L-shaped plan with all of its principal rooms (living room, dining room, bedrooms) and huge steel framed windows cleverly positioned to face into a stunning landscaped garden with a koi carp pond while the kitchen, original maid’s room and garage were positioned to look out onto the street. Upstairs, the master bedroom opened out onto a substantial terrace which was also accessible via a steel bridge and staircase from the garden.

img_6960img_821228067712_unknown

Decor-wise, the current owner had clearly made a huge effort to restore the house to its former glory over the years (the living room was particularly stunning) and had made alterations that were sympathetic to the original design but admitted that the house was no museum to modernism – it was first and foremost a home that catered to the needs of his family and contained a hotpotch of styles and eras.

28068096_unknownimg_698728068256_unknown

According to Zoopla, the house is worth between £700-850k, which seems entirely reasonable for a house of such architectural significance.

img_6965img_8216img_6964

Isokon Lawn Road Flats, NW3

Isokon Lawn Road Flats
London NW3
Architect: Wells Coates
Grade I listed modernist apartment block designed as a progressive experiment in new ways of urban living
Year Built: 1934

I previously visited the Isokon building and mini museum when I started doing this blog. I didn’t have access to the interior of the building so all I came away with were some rather lame iPhone 4s-quality photos of the exterior and the recreation of the kitchen and bathroom in the museum. My more recent trip as part of London’s Open House weekend, which involved a tour of the communal areas and a selection of the different types of flat in the building, was far more fruitful.

img_6901

As I described in my previous blog entry, the building was designed by architect Wells Coates for Molly and Jack Pritchard as an experiment in minimalist urban living and consisted of 24 tiny standard-sizes studio flats, 8 one bedroom flats, a (now closed) kitchen and staff quarters and a large garage. The Pritchards lived in a one bedroom penthouse flat at the top with their two sons next door in a studio flat.

28066352_unknownimg_7742

As part of the Open House tour, we were showed inside two examples of the standard studio flat and excitingly, the slightly larger-than-standard studio and penthouse on the top floor.

Upon entry into the building, I was struck by the elegantly modernist communal areas decorated with a cool grey, white and wooden colour scheme. The two standard-sized studios that we were shown were accessed via open walkways, which my partner said reminded him of the vast, bog standard council estates typical in his home town (I disagreed).

img_7731-128066864_unknown

The standard-sized studio flats were very small indeed (we were told that current regulations would prohibit flats of that size being built nowadays) but were well designed, with their original built-in and cordoned off kitchen and bathroom areas intact. We were told that these flats were sold on a shared ownership basis for £95k in 2003.

img_7729img_6909img_773028066640_unknown

The studio flat on the top floor (originally inhabited by the Pritchards’ sons but now owned by someone capable of living a very minimalist lifestyle with almost no possessions) was more generously proportioned.

28067216_unknown28067200_unknown

However, it was the penthouse which had (for want of a better expression) the wow factor. Clad almost entirely in plywood (both the walls and the floor), it had a separate bedroom and large living room which opened out onto an enormous terrace.

img_6940img_7740img_6951

The penthouse, which I’d previously seen featured in the Evening Standard, is currently owned by the founder of aspirational Scandi furniture store Skandium and so was beautifully furnished with a mixture of furnishings and design objects appropriate to the era of the building.

img_6944img_7732img_6930img_7739

I have no idea how much something as special as the penthouse would cost but one bedroom flats and studios have come onto the market before and sold for between £500-600k, which I think is a fair price for living in such a stunning Grade I-listed piece of architectural history in a very nice area of North London.

28066240_unknown

Lambert Jones Mews, The Barbican EC2

Lambert Jones Mews, The Barbican EC2
Four bedroom family home on the Barbican Estate
Architect: Chamberlain Powell & Bon
Year built: 1974

I have come to terms with the fact that I am very unlikely to fulfil my dream of living on the Barbican estate in my lifetime: given my current situation, the studios and one bedroom flats are too small and anything larger than that is either bad value for money (the average price for a two bedroom flat appears to be around £850-900k) or just completely unaffordable.

The Lambert Jones mews houses are definitely an example of the latter so when I saw that one of the houses was open to the public as part of Open House this year, I seized the chance to have a nose around a house completely out of my reach.

28065248_unknown-1img_7244

The house, one of only eight on the entire estate, was accessed via a residents’ stairwell and private cobbled street (apparently designed to resemble fashionable West End mews housing) usually sealed off to members of the public.

28065280_unknownimg_7246

The ground floor contained two bedrooms, one of which had direct access to the residents’ gardens, a bathroom, the integral garage which the owners had converted into a further bedroom and the main reception room which had a double height ceiling and window overlooking the gardens.

28065920_unknownimg_7250

An open tread iroko staircase led upstairs to a galleried dining area (from which you could look down over the main reception room), a second bathroom, the master bedroom with some nice views over the gardens, the kitchen and another bedroom, both of which had double height ceilings and led out onto a small balcony. From here, a further flight of external steps led up to a private roof terrace which was connected by a communal walkway to the roof terraces of the neighbouring houses and looked out over the residents’ gardens and the Barbican Centre.

28065856_unknownimg_724928065840_unknown

The house was full of the details associated with Barbican properties: sliding partition doors separating living and sleeping areas, strategically placed windows, exposed concrete and brickwork, that handy cupboard by the front door for storage, postal deliveries and rubbish collection and all of the original plug, light and switch fittings. While there was a lack of light (perhaps due to these houses being slightly walled in by the rest of the estate?) and the (possibly Mondrian-inspired?) colour scheme and refitted kitchen and bathrooms weren’t all to my taste, this was a very special, rare house and clearly one of the most prestigious residences on the estate. 

As one of the owners put it, Barbican residents often progress through a “Barbican food chain” from studio flat to one-bedroom flat to two-bedroom flat to three-bedroom flat in one of the towers and then if really fortunate, to one of these four bedroom mews houses at the very top of the chain (!).

28065712_unknownimg_7251

The Lambert Jones mews houses do occasionally come up for sale. This more neutrally decorated example was sold for £2.5 million earlier this year.

28065488_unknown

The Homewood, Esher, KT10

The Homewood
National Trust modernist country house and garden
Architect: Patrick Gwynne
Year built: 1938

Built in the 1930s by architect Patrick Gwynne, the Homewood is a modernist masterpiece of a house surrounded by a picturesque woodland garden in affluent Esher, Surrey. The architect lived there on and off from its completion until his death in 2003 – his friends described the house as the great love of his life, presumably over and above his actual human partners. Sometime before he died, he bequeathed it to the National Trust on the condition that a family would live in it and that it would be open to the public for one day a week for six months of the year.

27273408_unknown

I’d wanted to visit for ages so I felt particularly aggrieved when I was struck down with some kind of mystery illness on the day of my pre-booked National Trust tour. Determined not to let a bit of nausea get in the way of my visit, I somehow managed to haul myself there and get through the majority of the very informative if rather militantly run house tour (no photography, no shoes and unfortunately for me on the day, absolutely no sitting down anywhere). Despite seeing everything through a fug of sickness, I found the house and the gardens to be absolutely breathtaking.

27273312_unknownimg_577127273568_unknown

Like all great modernist architecture and design from the 1930s, the house and its furnishings seemed incredibly contemporary. The exterior was all modernist lines (the upper floor was partially supported by stilts – one of my favourite modernist design features), industrial materials and lots of glazing.

27273424_unknown27273120_unknown

Inside, the space felt largely open plan, with living areas marked out by sliding partitions and furniture arrangement. The obvious highlight of the house was the spectacular living area on the first floor, spanning the entire length of the house and featuring floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto that woodland garden.

img_5652img_5772img_5766

At one point during the visit, we encountered the tenant currently living in the house, as per the architect’s wishes. Though the tenant was clearly grateful for the opportunity to live somewhere so spectacular, some of his comments suggested that living in a National Trust period piece of a house had its disadvantages, namely having to keep everything exactly as is, no mod-cons, poor insulation during the winter and having complete strangers trample through your home every other weekend for a couple of months of the year.

img_5764-1img_5769

Unfortunately, that was the point that I had to bail, my nausea depriving me of the opportunity to poke around the upstairs bedrooms, bathrooms and gardens: I will certainly be returning to complete my visit before the summer is over.

27273376_unknown

Interior photos courtesy of Dennis Gilbert/The National Trust and midcenturyhome.com

19 Limekiln Lane, Bridlington YO15

19 Limekiln Lane, Bridlington
1950s modernist house
Architect: Tim French
Year built: 1954

I stumbled across this Airbnb listing a couple of months ago and decided there and then that I’d quite like to celebrate turning 30 by staying at an amazing-looking modernist house by the seaside, choosing to ignore the fact that the house was about 7 hours away up north in Bridlington, East Yorkshire and my birthday is in freezing November.

img_2559

Whilst the journey from London did prove to be a bit harrowing and Bridlington did turn out to be a ghost town in winter (it is, after all, a sleepy coastal town whose prime trade is tourism during the summer months), the experience of staying at 19 Limekiln Lane felt like being given an Open House-style architectural tour of my dream 1950s home and then actually being allowed to live in it for a couple of days (i.e. amazing and well worth the effort).

img_2540img_2687img_2484

The original owner who commissioned the house apparently made no restrictions as to the design, stipulating only that it should be modern and that it should exploit the coastal views. The house, which was completed in 1954, certainly succeeded on these two fronts: its striking mid century modern design featured a double-height floor to ceiling glass panel on its front facade, which provided for dramatic views of the coastline and let a lot of natural light into the the house. Other classic mid-century modern design features included a butterfly roof, a lot of natural wood on the walls and ceilings, a striking open staircase and some great built-in furniture (the downstairs dining table speared by the steel column running from the top of the house to the bottom was a particularly appealing design feature).

img_2680img_2425img_2679

Upon entering the house, you were greeted by that staircase in the double-height hallway which flowed through into an open plan dining area (containing the aforementioned dining table) and appropriately refitted kitchen. A door off the hallway led to two of the bedrooms and the bathroom featuring a vivid green three piece suite, which whilst attractive, reminded me of that terrifying bathroom scene in The Shining.

img_2431img_2683

Upstairs, there was a large living area with a wood burning stove, a sunroom/studio space and a third bedroom along with a rooftop balcony, all with views across the bay to Flamborough Head and out onto the charming, mature garden which contained outbuildings and a little greenhouse.

img_2384img_2681img_2387

The furnishings were mainly original vintage pieces, complemented by modern touches (a throw, armchair or artwork here and there) which meant that the house stayed on the right side of retro pastiche. Considering the fact it was freezing outside and the house was mainly single-glazed, it was pleasingly toasty with the heating on – mercifully, the original hot air heating system (bafflingly popular at time that the house was built) had been replaced with modern gas central heating.

img_2688img_2653-1img_2686

I was surprised at how quickly I became accustomed to my beautifully designed and decorated surroundings and was sorry when the time came for me to hand back the keys. I learned from a bit of online research that the house was worth around £235k when the current owner bought the house ten years ago and the estimated current value is around £290k, which I found difficult to believe considering just how little that figure would buy you anywhere near London (I’ve just looked – it will buy you a one bedroom flat in Sutton, Zone 6). Whilst I’m not sure a move to Bridlington is on the cards for me anytime soon, I really enjoyed my stay and couldn’t think of a better or more fitting place to spend my 30th.

img_2290

Pullman Court, London SW2

Pullman Court, London SW2
Grade II* listed Modern Movement building
Architect: Frederick Gibberd
Year built: 1937

Of all of the Open House properties that I visited this year, I think that Pullman Court was possibly my favourite.

20150920_165106v220150920_160812.jpg20150920_165155.jpg

A striking wall of 1930s white modernism, Pullman Court is made up of a total of 218 homes ranging from one-room studios to larger four-room flats. The development comprises two five-storey blocks which run along a central driveway leading up to two seven-storey cruciform blocks at the rear of the site.  There are also five three-storey blocks which face out onto Streatham Hill – the location is perhaps Pullman Court’s only downside.

20150920_164605pullman court communal20150920_164701

Whilst the majority of the original amenities (which included roof gardens, an open air swimming pool, a restaurant and social club) are no more, Pullman Court still exudes a sense of 1930s glamour, not dissimilar to the the Isokon building in North London. The once-portered lobbies are luxurious with highly polished parquet floors, columns and round feature windows and the grounds are beautifully landscaped and maintained. 

20150920_16453920150920_164506_001v2

There were two properties open to view as part of the Open House scheme: both were two bedroom flats but differed in terms of layout and aesthetic.

20150920_161400Pullman bathroom20150920_161736V2

The first had been restored by the owner to reflect the stark modernist aesthetic of the era in which Pullman Court was built. The owner had managed to salvage the original streamlined kitchen units, bathroom suite and fitted furnishings, including a wall of cupboards in the master bedroom and a modern electric fireplace for the living room. I was quite taken with the black flooring in particular. 

Pullman kitchenPullman bedrooms

The flat wasn’t large but the layout of the flat gave the impression of spaciousness, perhaps owing to the wide rectangular hallway which linked the relatively small bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom and living room, accessed at the end of the hallway by glass double doors. This flat also had a south-facing box of a balcony accessed from the living room which looked out onto another block in the estate. I would usually view this as a negative but the external facades of the buildings were so striking, I don’t think I would mind looking out onto them every day. 

Pullman balcony 2Pullman living room

The second flat was decorated in a more homely style with carpeted floors, softer furnishings and a modern kitchen and bathroom. 

20150920_163708Pullman second flat bath20150920_163342

The overall effect still managed to be striking thanks to the original windows, those views onto the bright facades of other buildings in the development and various small period details.

20150920_16365020150920_163115

I have only ever seen one or two of these flats come onto the market and I remember them to be surprisingly affordable (around the £300,000 mark), most likely due to the location. The Modern House has a ground floor example listed here in its “Past Sales” section. If one on a higher floor became available, I think I would seriously consider making the move to Streatham to bask in all of Pullman Court’s modernist glory. 

20150920_160714

Stoneleigh Terrace, London N19

Stoneleigh Terrace, London N19
Modernist housing estate built during golden era of Camden public housing
Architect: Peter Tabori
Year built: 1972-79

Stoneleigh Terrace (also known as the Whittington Estate and Lulot Gardens) is a striking North London seventies housing estate consisting of 240 homes varying from one-bedroom two-person flats to six-bedroom eight-person houses. Bearing a passing resemblance to the Alexandra and Ainsworth estate that I visited last year, it is almost entirely structurally composed of concrete and features a similar stepped, angular design.

20150920_13032520150920_131222v220150920_131239

The estate is in a good state of repair and the bright colour palette (the concrete was painted a bright shade of cream in the nineties) means that it doesn’t have that intimidating concrete jungle feel, unlike some other estates from the same era.

20150920_130834Stoneleigh exterior20150920_143757

8 Stoneleigh Terrace, a two-bedroom split-level maisonette, was open to view as part of the Open House scheme. The flat was accessed from the ground floor, which contained a hall, main living area and kitchen, each divided by sliding partition doors. A fully-glazed wall, with heating concealed beneath a low wooden bench, separated the living area from the terrace and an internal window between the hall and the living area further dissolved the space, as well as providing borrowed light.

20150920_140026v2stoneleigh interior 220150920_142230stoneleigh door20150920_142551

Downstairs were two bedrooms, which both opened onto a small courtyard, the original bathroom and a large box room.

Whilst the estate is primarily populated by local authority tenants, a number of the properties are privately owned, which occasionally come up for sale. I have never seen a flat as big as 8 Stoneleigh Terrace on the market but I have seen a couple of one bedrooms priced at around the £400,000 mark.

20150920_141803stoneleigh bathroom

 

Trellick Tower, London W10

Trellick Tower, London W10
Grade II listed modernist apartment block
Architect: Ernö Goldfinger
Year built: 1968-1975

Bounded by the Grand Union Canal and the Paddington mainline, Trellick Tower is the dominant feature rising out of a housing estate of 317 homes built between 1968 and 1975.

20150920_120721trellik side20150920_105240

The tower, which is described as iconic by those who like it and an eyesore by those who don’t, consists of two blocks (one of 31 storeys and one of 7) and is entirely built of bush-hammered in-situ reinforced concrete. Whilst it was originally conceived as social housing, the tower has somehow become one of London’s most fashionable and desirable addresses in recent years with a significant proportion of the flats owned by private individuals.

trellik facade20150920_120207trellik exterior

Standing at the foot of the 31-storey tower, the building is impressive in an intimidating, monolithic sort of way but the facade and the estate in general have a gritty, down-at-heel feel reminiscent of the council estate featured in those Channel 4 links. From the outside, it seems hard to believe that there are flats in the building worth close to £1 million.

trellik corridor20150920_114535trellik lobby

Once inside, however, it becomes apparent that the building is well kept and the original architecture, exposed concrete walls and colourful tiling have been extremely well preserved or sympathetically updated. The panoramic views from the landings and corridors on the higher floors are pretty spectacular.

trellik living room 2trellik living roomtrellik kitchen20150920_114326v2

Two types of flat were open to view as part of Open House: a one-bed and an enormous split-level three-bed. The one-bed was bright and reasonably spacious with floor-to-ceiling glazing in the living room opening out onto a balcony with an impressive view of the city below. The three-bed was naturally more impressive (even if a bit idiosyncratically decorated) with generously proportioned rooms and a long balcony which spanned the length of the living room and the substantial kitchen-diner. The views of the Grand Union Canal snaking through the city from the bedrooms really were something else.

trellik stairs20150920_115200trellik living room copy20150920_114912trellik bedroom20150920_115522trellik kitchen blacony

I haven’t seen a flat come up for sale in the tower recently but I reckon the one-bed is worth around £500,000 and the three-bed close to a £1million.

Priory Green Estate, Kings Cross NW3

Priory Green Estate, Kings Cross NW3
Lubetkin-designed concrete social housing with ‘Conservation Area’ status
Architect: Tecton & Lubetkin
Year built: 1957

At first glance, this centrally located council estate doesn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary. However, upon closer inspection, the fact it was designed by Lubetkin (the architect responsible for the spectacularly luxurious High Point in Highgate) becomes apparent.

20150919_142744
IMG_3993
IMG_3875
Small details, such as the putty-coloured square tiling covering sections of the facade, the tapered, almost sculptural stairways, white columns dotted here and there, the elegant grey and dark red colour scheme and even the typeface used for the door numbers all typify Lubetkin’s modernist style. The layout of the blocks make perfect sense: communal walkways on one side of the building, private balconies on the other, meaning that all flats are dual aspect.

IMG_3990
IMG_3888
IMG_3988
IMG_3882
The flats weren’t open to view but I understand that they’re all split level and have reasonable proportions as these photos from Modernist Estates suggest. The estate seems to be well maintained and quiet (it was, apparently, a hotbed of criminal activity for a time) but Lubetkin design features or not, the fact remains that it is a council estate in Kings Cross.

IMG_0948
IMG_0949
IMG_0947
This is why I found it difficult to sympathise with the story of a private owner (obviously an architect), who reportedly complained about the erection of the graffiti-style mural in the central quad, painted by the children of the estate, on the grounds that it wasn’t consistent with the architecture or what Lubetkin would have wanted. Most importantly of all (to her), however, it was preventing her from hosting dinner parties at her flat, because it was sure to offend her guests. Although I concede that the mural is a distinctly un-modernist eyesore, to complain about something like this is missing the point of the estate and social housing in general: the design was and is supposed to meet the needs of the principal community that it houses, not prissy modernist purists (like myself) and their dinner party guests, and on this count it succeeds.

20150919_143246