The Isokon flats

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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

Modernist houses in Hampstead

Hampstead has, for a long time, been one of the more affluent areas of inner London. It’s always attracted residents from  intellectual, liberal, artistic, musical and literary backgrounds, more receptive to new ideas. As a consequence in amongst the more traditional Georgian and Victorian buildings, there’s a significant number of modernist style houses built between the wars.

One notable example is 2 Willow Road, the former home of the architect Ernö Goldfinger, which is now owned by the National Trust and open to the public. We’d visited previously a couple of years ago (report here) but had another look round during our recent break in Hampstead.

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There are plenty of other examples of Modernist architecture within a short distance of Willow Road, most of which are still used for their original purpose as places to live.

One particularly notable building is the Isokon flats on Lawn Road. Designed by Wells Coates, they were completed in 1936

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Famous residents include the author Agatha Christie and Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus school and an architect himself.

The building was allowed to deteriorate but was refurbished and now house 25 shared ownership flats for key workers and 11 for private homes.

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This house is tucked away in Downshire Road, just round the corner from 2 Willow Road and Keats’ House, on a street of more traditional buildings, just opposite St John’s church.

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It was designed by Michael and Charlotte Bunney as their own home in 1936. It’s attached to a Georgian house and could almost be taken for an extension.

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There are many similarities between the simple design of Modernist houses and some of the typically Georgian buildings, of which there are many in Hampstead. The simple geometric shape, the proportions, the minimalist ornamentation and the white rendering.

Number 13 blended in so well, and was almost hidden by the high hedge and trees, that we almost missed it as we walked past. But the distinctive Modernist style gate gate it away.

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Frognal is a particularly prosperous area of Hampstead and there are number of Modernist houses there.

This is “Sun House” halfway down Frognal Way, one of Hampsteads more desirable streets to live in (it’s a private cul-de-sac with a barrier at the end of the road).

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It was built in 1936 to a design by E Maxwell Fry.

This house, 66 Frognal, is on the corner of Frognal Way. Built in 1936 it was designed by Connell, Ward and Lucas, a pair of Kiwis and a Brit who were leading Modernist architects.

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Frognal Close is a small cul-de-sac of five houses designed by Sigmund Freud’s architecht son, Ernst. They’re just around the corner from Freud senior’s London home in Maresfield Gardens.

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This house at 13b Arkwright Road, was designed by Godfrey Samuel of Samuel and Harding.

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It’s one of a pair of houses that probably replaced an older, larger, (and probably not particularly attractive) Victorian period building similar to the others in the road.

There are many other . Those pictured above are some of the more notable Modernist houses in the district, but there are plenty of others. We spotted this one, at the top of Willoughby Street, as we were walking along the main street leading up to the Tube station.

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We also spotted this interesting looking building just down the road from Belsize tube station. It’s the entrance to a deep air raid shelter from World War Two.

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