The Isokon flats

2012-09-22 15.14.17

I mentioned the Isokon building in my recent post on Modernist houses in Hampstead. But I thought that the building deserved its own, more detailed post.

Designed by the Canadian architect, Welles Coates, they’re located on Lawn Road, a leafy residential street close to the Hampstead Free Hospital, they’re also known as the “Lawn Road Flats”.

Picture source: Museum of London website

It’s an outstanding Modernist building.

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Coates was commissioned in 1931 to build the flats by Jack and Molly Pritchard who were the owners of “Isokon” a design company they’d established the previous year.  His brief was to design a block of service flats, built to a standard plan, which would be fitted out with Isokon designed furniture.  The block was completed in July 1934. The design was heavily influenced by the ideas of Le Corbusier – it was meant to be “a machine for living”

Aimed at young professionals the flats were made of reinforced concrete with dramatically cantilevered sculptured stairways and access galleries. Coates felt that furniture should be an integral part of architecture and all essential furniture and equipment was built-in. Each flat included a sliding table, a divan with a spring mattress and cover, a radiator, linoleum floor finish, light fittings, a wash basin with a mirror and a glass shelf, a hanging cupboard with a long mirror, a dressing table with drawers and cupboards beneath, an electric cooker, refrigerator, sink and draining board, refuse container and cupboard space.

The original services included hot water and central heating, cleaning and bed making with meals provided in a central kitchen.

(Design Museum website)

The communal kitchen on the ground floor was converted to restaurant and bar, the Isobar,  which was designed by the Bauhaus émigré Marcel Breuer, in 1936. Although the Isobar was popular for a while, before WW2, with the “Hampstead Set”, the communal facilities weren’t popular and were eventually converted into more flats.

The flats were originally intended to be occupied by “young professionals”  – according to Coates they were designed

“with special reference to the circumstances of the bachelor or young married professional or businessperson.” (source here)

However, in practice, the building attracted a number of Hampstead intellectuals and former residents include the author Agatha Christie, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus.

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It’s distinctive features are the cantilevered balconies which run along the full length of the building on all the floors, and the tower and entrance hall at one end.

Agatha Christie described the building as “a giant liner without any funnels” and I think she had a point., To me,  the design is very typically “streamline moderne” i.e. an architectural style emphasized curving forms, long horizontal lines, and sometimes nautical elements” (Wikipedia). I felt there were similarities with the design of the Midland Hotel in Morecambe, built during the same period.

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There’s a floor plan of the building here which shows how compact the individual flats are.

After WW2 the building went into a period of decline. For a short period the building was owned by the New Statesman magazine but were transferred to Camden Council in 1972. They allowed the flats to continue to deteriorate but they have been recently was refurbished by Notting Hill Home Ownership (NHHO), Avanti Architects with Alan Conisbee Associates as structural engineers and the Isokon Trust. The building now houses 25 shared ownership flats for key workers and 11 for private homes. So they are finally fulfilling their original purpose.

A number of other bloggers have written about the flats, including

London Bytes

Insideology

Studio 325

and there is further information here, here and here

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3 thoughts on “The Isokon flats

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