Saturday, March 25, 2017

Prince Albert Road, London

 North London Nordic 

There are buildings that I file mentally away in a category labelled ‘Must find out more about that’. One such was Oslo Court, a block of flats looking on to Prince Albert Road near the northern edge of Regent’s Park. I’d noticed it when I lived in the area, well over 30 years ago. When I first saw it, from a friend’s rapidly moving car, I thought it might be a 1950s block – those brick walls and pale-edged windows looked like a version of ‘Festival of Britain’ style. The lettering of the sign was attractive too, and perhaps the name of the block made me think of ‘Scandinavian modernism’, another name for the muted modernism of the 1950s. Passing again on foot the other day, I decided, at last, to look it up.

Well, the Scandinavian influence on British architecture predates the 1950s (as a look in architectural magazines of the prewar period shows) and Oslo Court actually dates to the 1930s. It is the work of Robert Atkinson,* whose architectural practice began in the early-20th century in the Beaux Art style and had moved to a restrained modernism by the time these flats were built. The idea was to provide small flats, with just one bedroom, a sitting room, a kitchen, and a bathroom,† and to give as many as possible a view over the park. So the flats that don’t look directly on to Prince Albert Road and the greenery beyond have balconies that are stepped out from the side elevation (on the left in my photograph), so that you can see towards the Park from them.

These balconies, and the big Crittall windows, must let in plenty of light. And the way the windows go around the corners of the building is very much a modernist feature. But the modernism is toned down by the brick finish (it’s essentially a concrete structure with brick facing and infill, I believe). Another charming, non-modernist touch is the small sculptural panels, with Nordic themes such as a reindeer and a longship seen front-on. The Vikings are coming to St John’s Wood, and they like what they see. 
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* There is more about this building and its architect here. This site also has information about Oslo Court's celebrated restaurant.

† One step up the size scale, as it were, from the more famous modernist flats by Wells Coates at Lawn Road, NW3.


bazza said...

I have dined at the very old-school Oslo Court restaurant a few times but not recently. To my shame, I never noticed the building properly! I do like those Crittall windows though. I believe the factory is still going in Witham, Essex.
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Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

If they had been built a few decades earlier, they might have had to fit in the letters for CHRISTIANIA COURT, which wouldn't have looked so neat! Changing the name of Norway's capital has also proved a boon for crossword compilers. Might be a comfortable pied a terre whilst pining for the fjords but wouldn't be much fun with a young family or elderly relatives coming to stay. Unfortunately flats off Kennington Park Road and in Pimlico, that don't appear to be very much bigger, seem to be made to have to cope with just that. Nowhere as neat, but arguably more adaptably useful. When you are coming into Paddington station, and see the high brick flats with the tiny, tiny balconies where people contrive to keep their bikes or hang some washing, you know you're properly in London. Very insensitive use of architectural and building arts, one is tempted to say.