One of the most exhilarating things about London is the variety of architecture it has on offer. Side by side you will find ultra-modern tower blocks and Victorian period houses that compliment each other in an unusual fashion. As you walk through the city around every corner there could be a surprise waiting.
London is known for its pioneering and bold buildings and it’s a challenge to run out of new things to see. However, if you have already seen the major brutalist icons, this is a list of hidden gems you can check out on your next visit.
Camden Town Hall Annexe (The Standard Hotel)
Designed by the Camden Architects Department and finished in 1974, the former Camden Town Hall Annexe has just dodged the recent wave of brutalist architecture destruction. Spruced up, modernised and converted into The Standard Hotel it has gained a new lease on life.
This office block, overlooking King’s Cross, an area that has recently seen intense transformation, stands in a prime location and has aged rather well. Because of the curved edges of the pre-cast concrete facade and the rounded window corners the building appears more futuristic and contemporary then a lot of other brutalist structures.
The most prominent new additions to the building is the glass roof extension, as well as a very original exterior capsule lift which you can see going up and down from the street. While you’re here, why not visit the also recently redeveloped Coal Drops Yard – a vibrant and unique shopping destination with cafes and restaurants.
In the shadow of London’s Brutalist icon – Balfron Tower is the much smaller, but nonetheless noteworthy Carradale House. Named after a Scottish village, this residential 11-storey building blends in seamlessly with the surrounding Brownfield Estate social housing ethos.
Architect Ernő Goldfinger used Carradale House as a testing ground for his new ideas, which he then implemented in his later projects. The most interesting characteristics of this building are the numerous sky bridges connecting parts of the building every 3rd floor. It also features vertical slim ribbon windows running down the service towers akin to arrow slits in a fortress – unmistakably a Goldfinger design element.
Carradale House, Glenkerry House and the Balfron Tower are the three gems of the 60s and 70s Brownfield Estate. A stroll around the area is recommended for any lover of all things concrete.
This high-rise tower block is yet another work from Ernő Goldfinger, although its design appears much simpler and more similar to traditional social housing blocks. The feature that stands out is the futuristic looking ‘pod’ crowning the service tower – an element prevalent in Goldfinger’s architecture.
Architecture aside, perhaps the most interesting fact about this tower is that it’s still run as a self-managed cooperative. This model was started as one of many experiments by the now-dissolved Greater London Council and is the only one that has survived until today.
Robin Hood Gardens
This may be the last opportunity to see this gem, as it’s already partially demolished. The Western Block is currently being replaced by contemporary residential blocks, whereas the Eastern block is still occupied and scheduled for demolition in the very near future.
This social housing complex was designed by Peter and Alison Smithson in the late 1960s with Le Corbusier’s ethos of ‘streets in the sky’ in mind. Today the structure appears bold, in-your-face and unapologetic. The uniformity of its concrete facade can have an intimidating effect.
Interestingly London’s V&A Museum has acquired a section of the building including the exterior, as well as interior of a maisonette flat, to preserve the heritage and showcase it as an example of the Brutalist style and modernist living.
UCL Institute of Education
The multi-layered, cascading geometric shapes of the UCL Institute of Education and the interplay of concrete and anodised aluminium create a design that captivates the eye with its complexity. This colossal building by the famous Sir Denys Lasdun, also responsible for the National Theatre, triggered heated debates and protests as it was proposed to replace a Georgian terrace on Bedford Way.
Also referred to as 20 Bedford Way, the building was finished in 1976. It was initially not well received with criticism of its large scale and looming concrete towers devoid of ornamentation or features. In 2000 however, it was recognised and awarded a listed status.
In the vicinity you have the Charles Dickens Museum, the Postal Museum and the Wellcome Collection if you are looking for other cultural experiences.
St Giles Hotel
Even though St Giles Hotel is in the very centre of the city, it is a very much overlooked and easy to miss building. It was designed by architect Elsworth Sykes and opened in 1977 as the London Central YMCA.
It’s worth walking around the whole building to see its intricate movement between protruding blocks of concrete and deep, geometric crevasses. The vast number of windows allows to maximise daylight in each of the hotel rooms.
But perhaps the more famous brutalist landmark, Centre Point, is just around the corner. Also, drop by Omotesando Koffee for some serious coffee in Japanese minimalist style.
Alexandra Road Estate
Looking at the weathered concrete exterior you might not guess that Alexandra Road Estate was the utopia of modern living in the 1970s. Despite appearances the design holds up pretty well to our current standards of living, with open living spaces and large windows.
Created by visionary American architect Neave Brown, the Alexandra Road Estate ( aka Rowley Way) is a set of long, curved terraces with public pedestrian walkways leading between the buildings. Walking through the rows of cascading balconies facing the paths there is a sense of quiet and serenity. The stark site-cast reinforced concrete is broken up with spots of greenery. The reception by critics was mixed, however some residents dubbed it the Costa del Alexandra, an experience akin to staying at the Riviera.
A 15 min walk away from here you will find tourists holding up traffic for pictures at the famous Abbey Road crossing, which appeared on the Beatles album cover by the same name.
Looking a lot more like a Tenerife holiday resort than a social housing estate, the Whittington Estate was a contrast to the Victorian houses it has replaced, as well as the enormous brutalist high-rise towers of the time. Its architect, Hungarian-born Peter Tabori, trained under famous names such as Richard Rogers and (fellow Hungarian) Ernö Goldfinger.
Like at the Brunswick, an emphasis on the feeling of community was embedded in the design of the buildings. The low-rise terrace format helps to create horizontal lines which make the architecture more organic and approachable. The stepped terraces also allow for maximising daylight in each flat.
The estate is in a very quiet residential area, but when you’re around, make sure to check out the beautiful Highgate Cemetery, one of the Magnificent Seven Victorian cemeteries. Or go down to Tufnell Park for some delicious scoops of gelato at Ruby Violet.
The Tower Hotel
The Tower Hotel sandwiched between the Thames and St Katharines Dock is currently part of the luxury Guoman Hotel chain. Designed by the Renton Howard Wood Partnership and built for tea and cake magnate J. Lyons, it was finally completed in 1973 after 3 years of construction.
It’s bulky, ziggurat shape has not been very popular with the public and was voted in a 2006 BBC poll as London’s second ugliest building. Many consider it an eyesore that ruins the views of Tower Bridge. Whether you will like it, you will have to see for yourself.
The St Katherines Dock area itself is very popular with tourists, with a charming marina and many landmarks in close proximity, including Tower Bridge and Tower of London. You should have a stroll around the area, visit the local cafes, get a pint in the impressive 18th century timber frame pub – The Dickens Inn and see Queen Elizabeth’s golden barge.
Minories Car Park
Nearby The Tower Hotel you can find another hidden away example of a brutalist building – the Minories Car Park. Finished in 1969 and designed by architect E.G. Chandler with City of London Architects, who is also responsible for another gem not on this list – Colechurch House, which you can see still in London Bridge (probably not for much longer).
The rounded corners of the windows makes the building appear less aggressive and more reminiscent of a 60s aesthetic. The bottom part has a very unique, flowing texture imprinted in the concrete, adding playfulness to the facade.
World’s End Estate
Built on a site of a Victorian slum the 20th century World’s End Estate really stands out among the brutalist gems. The red-brown brick facade is far more colourful than what you will usually see, but beneath the brick there still hides a classic precast concrete skeleton. The stark, geometric shapes however, are quintessentially in a brutalist style.
With its 7 high-rise towers looming over the Thames the Worlds End is a council estate on an epic scale. It was created in the 1970s and designed by architects Jim Cadbury-Brown and Eric Lyons. In the 17th century this area was considered to be far away from central London and the estate has taken the name given to the district.
When you’re here don’t miss another gem – the nearby Brompton Cemetery, one of London’s Magnificent Seven Victorian cemeteries.
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