Joshua Abbott, author of ‘A Guide to Modernism in Metro-Land’, picks five favourite buildings from London’s fringes
Joshua Abbott’s ‘Guide to Modernism in Metro-Land’ grows out of a website he set up in 2011, which – inspired by John Betjeman’s Metro-Land (1973) television programme and the books of Ian Nairn – the website examines the growth of the suburbs from the 1920s to the present day through its modernist designs. The new pocket guide covers nine London boroughs and two counties, and contains over 100 colour photographs, descriptions and area maps. Here the author selects five personal favourites.
Cockfosters Underground Station, Enfield (1933), Charles Holden
“One of Charles Holden’s most forward looking designs, with possibly the best tube station interior until the arrival of the 1999 Jubilee Line extension”.
The end of the Piccadilly line extension, originally planned as a much grander terminus style building, with towers either side of the road. It is one of Holden’s stations where the beauty is underground, much like Gants Hill. The station features a long low station building, with a subway entrance opposite. The ticket hall and platform areas are often likened to a church, due to the long nave-like shape and clerestory windows. The use of plain board marked concrete points the way to postwar architectural styles such as brutalism. The original plan allowed for an extension to incorporate two parades of shops, a staff building, a garage and even potentially a cinema. However the expected passenger traffic did not materialise, and the station remains as opened in 1933.
Kingsley Court, Willesden, Brent (1934), Peter Caspari
“Definitely an unsung piece of modernism in Metro-land, this block has now been refurbished and is still a great example of the emigre influence of British 30s architecture”.
An Expressionist apartment block alongside the Metropolitan Line designed by Peter Caspari. The building is six storeys high and built in banded brick that curves with an assurance not seen in other buildings of its period. Caspari was one of many emigre architects to flee to Britain from Europe in the 1920’s and 30’s. As with many of those who came here, like Erich Mendelsohn whom he had assisted, Caspari only stayed for a few years before moving over the other side of the Atlantic. Kingsley Court represents the best of Caspari’s brief stay.
Kerry Avenue, Stanmore, Harrow (1936), Gerald Lacoste
“A wonderful group of houses, that with their neighbours on Valencia Road, make up one of the best groups of modernist homes in Metro-Land”.
Six moderne houses designed by Gerald Lacoste at the Northern end of the Jubilee line. Originally planned to be part of a larger modernist estate, these were the only ones built.The houses are designed to be similar as a group but not monotonous, using the same elements; flat roofs, rounded staircase towers, white walls; in differing arrangements. The houses are constructed of brick, but have a mixture of exposed brick and rendered finishes.
Wood Green Shopping City, Haringey (1976-81), Sheppard Robson & Partners
“A town centre megastructure unlikely to be repeated, it is a building very much in use and valued by local residents”.
Megastructure in red brick and concrete, containing shops, offices, housing and parking on Wood Green High Street. Built as part of the Wood Green redevelopment which took place from the mid-1960s after the creation of the borough of Haringey, by the time it was completed public opinion and economic pressures had made it into a relic of an earlier age.
IBM Greenford, Ealing (1977-80), Foster Associates
“A perfect slice of High-tech, hidden away on an industrial estate in Greenford, a forerunner of the shiny business park aesthetic to come”.
High-tech warehouse complex originally designed by Norman Foster for IBM, now part occupied by Royal Mail. Formed of two main buildings, a distribution centre and a display hall, the complex is a perfect example of the 1970’s high-tech style, with aluminium cladding, glass walls and brightly coloured detailing. Like the interwar factories of Owen Williams and Wallis, Gilbert & Partners, the interiors are designed to be flexibly planned, allowing for changes in workflow or technology.
‘A Guide to Modernism in Metro-Land’
Unbound, 144pp, £11