Thursday, November 20, 2008

Page Street, London


Checkmate

A few years ago I was involved in a campaign to provide more affordable housing in the small Cotswold town where I live. Some people argued that they didn't want new buildings cluttering up the town, and I would say that social housing didn't have to be ugly. It could be well designed and a visual asset to a place. It could be well built in local stone in the Cotswolds, whereas in London, maybe brick or stucco might be more appropriate materials. Get a good architect to do the designs and you'd really enhace the neighbourhood. Well, I know it doesn't always work out like that, but it's good to aim high.

I was reminded of these discussions the other day when I was on my way to Tate Britain. I’d often admired and boggled at these flats in Page Street and neighbouring Vincent Street before finding out their history. Interestingly, they're an example of getting a successful architect to design social housing using, as it happens, those quintessentially London materials, brick and stucco. Of course there are plenty of brick and stucco buildings around, some as vibrantly patterned as streaky bacon, some more restrained. But none of them are quite like this. The chequerboard-patterned blocks were designed by Edwin Lutyens no less, and built in 1929–30. Lutyens was the great master of country houses, banks, and other grand buildings, and, famously, did the design for the Cenotaph in Whitehall. These flats were his only large-scale social housing scheme, and were done for the Westminster City Council. The blocks, by the way, are divided by little Classical pavilions containing shops and entrance halls that are much more in the expected Lutyens style. But what catches the eye are these expanses of brick and stucco, traditional materials put to unprecedented use. On the eve of the 1930s, the Edwardian master had not lost his eccentric touch.

8 comments:

Peter Ashley said...

Love it. And very gratifying to see that the windows appear to be still original.

Vinogirl said...

That is fantastic building.

Maria Thorburn said...

very glad to have seen these amazing flats by lutyens pictured on your blog. i was v fortunate to grow up in a beautiful house in scotland designed by Basil Watney, an achitect who intially began his career working for Lutyens. the house is called Straloch (perthshire uk) built in 1912 & is in a unique location nestled below a crag on the edge of a wilderness in a glen/2000 feet above sea level & 8 miles up & over a moor from Pitlochry. it is a gorgeous house outside & inside,huge slate roof & actually looking v georgian/queen anne(?)at front sloping down to a small loch. the back/partial side facades there are rows of mullioned windows on half-slated walls or above astragles which are the predominant style of window of the house including a v large one where inside reside the front stairs. inside there are gracious corridors,landings,bedrooms w curved ceilings & downstairs main elegant main rooms that all flow off each other w lovely door achitraves,mantlepieces & individual designs for built in bkcases,window seat radiator fronts to name a few. anyway, sadly Basil was killed in action in world war 1 only 7 years after the house was built so i like to think it was his wonderful legacy & hommage to Lutyens. i've never posted anything on a blog up till now.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Maria: Thank you so much for your fascinating account of Straloch, which sounds a beautiful house. Its style certainly sounds like a homage to Lutyens. How sad that Basil Watney was killed .

The Page Street flats are very atypical of Lutyens - but then he was a very versatile architect, who was both a great adaptor and developer of styles (Queen Anne, Classical) and able to pull something totally original out of the bag.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am actually live in these buildings and I love it because it has an open feel and does not feel like a council estate at all. thanks for your post

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hello. Thank you very much for your comment. It's always good to hear from people who live in the buildings that I write about. I'm glad the buildings are good to live in.

Chris said...

Great to come across this article. My grandparents lived in Bennet House and my great grandmother lived around the corner in Regency Street. I spent many years there as a child, with vivid memories of larger than life personalities. Amusingly,the residents always considered themselves superior to those in council housing. It was also notorious in the area for housing some of the 'villains' in Westminster.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you very much for your comment and your accompanying email. It's great to read a first-hand account from someone who spent so much time in this area. I always look out for these flats when I walk through this area - well, you don;t really have to look out for them, do you? - and it's fascinating to hear from people who know them at first-hand.