Open House Festival London 2022 is upon us. The festival – which runs 8 to 21 September – sees many different types of buildings throw open their doors for all to visit. It’s a citywide celebration that seeks to educate and inspire people to observe and explore their urban environment and the buildings it’s made up of. Here we pick out some progressive 20th century buildings that demonstrate innovative uses of concrete, Modernist planning principles, and epic engineering.
Stockwell Bus Garage
Adie, Button & Partners, 1951
Designed by London Transport’s own team, in partnership with Adie Button and Partners, this groundbreaking post war reinforced concrete building has a sweeping barrel-vaulted roof structure that spans 194 feet wide and 392 feet long with no internal columns, creating a cavernous interior. At its time it was the largest unsupported area under one roof in Europe, fitting 200 buses. It was Grade II* listed in 1988 for its architectural and engineering importance. Today, 185 buses – majority double decker – are housed at the garage, which also has a maintenance facility and acts as service centre for other garages operated by Go-Ahead, employing 600 personnel. Photograph credit: Diamond Geezer
St Paul's, Lorrimore Square
Woodroffe Buchanan & Coulter, 1955
This Modernist post-war church has a copper and lead roof, a reinforced concrete, concrete block and brick structure. The interior features materials such as marble, wood and plaster. Its stained glass windows are by Goddard and Gibbs and the carving of the risen Christ is by Freda Skinner. Its tower and spire date back to the original early Gothic revival church of 1856, destroyed by fire in 1941. The new church retains the traditional plan with a long nave, transepts and an east end Lady Chapel. Its copper-clad rooftop flèche draws focus to the church, which is located within the late 1950s Brandon Estate, one of the LCC’s pioneering post-war redevelopment schemes.
Alton East & Alton West, Roehampton
This estate was designed as a showcase for the work of the LCC, which at the time was the largest and most influential architect's department in the world in the 1950s, including young architects who went on to have international careers. The estate is regarded as being amongst the most important examples of low-cost mass housing to be built in the period and the landscaping is an integral component of the quality of the overall design. The carefully composed mix of architecture and the integrated elements of earlier landscaping, planting and vistas are of particular interest. The site incorporates two adapted 18th century landscapes, including the remnants of one by Capability Brown from around 1774-5. Photograph credit: Images George Rex
South Norwood Library
Hugh Lea, 1966
Designed by Hugh Lea, Borough Architect for Croydon, this purpose-built Brutalist library sits on Staffordshire blue engineering brick, and shows Miesian influence with an abundance of natural light and a cuboid volume of channelled and bush-hammered concrete. Inside, original wallpaper and handrails survive and the cuboid houses a cosy children’s library lit by a clerestory. This library replaced a late 19th century library, providing 65 percent additional floorspace with a split-level and flat roof. The mosaic in the library forecourt was designed by local school children and the community in 2006. The 'Brutalist Library' currently requires funding to improve the building for library visitors, and Croydon Council is considering moving it to a smaller retail unit – though a campaign has been set up to keep the library in place.
Vanbrugh Park Estate
Chamberlin Powell and Bon, 1963
Set on seven acres, this residential estate of mixed dwelling typologies features an eight-storey tower block of 64 flats, low-rise terraced houses, and maisonettes arranged over garages. The architecture includes semi-circular curved motifs, purposeful use of light, and a positive approach to community living. It employed functional, low-cost materials such as the breeze-block exterior, so focus could be brought to the landscaping.
Brixton Recreation Centre
George Finch, 1982
Brixton Recreation Centre was one of the earliest to combine sports and leisure facilities with urban amenities. It has become an important social centre for the community (even originally containing a pub and basement disco), which partly earned it its Grade II listing in 2016. It was planned as a key component of an ambitious redevelopment scheme for central Brixton with new shopping and commercial centre, raised walkways, and 50 storey blocks of flats.
The building is thoughtfully composed and proportioned, intricately planned around a top-lit circulation space with long views through the building. The monolithic brick masses are brought to a human scale at street level with sculptural concrete forms. Its simple palette of material continues inside with deeply coffered ceilings, coarse red brick and concrete, tiles and matchboarding used on floors and walls. A sleek, wide, stainless steel handrail lines the atrium void and stairs. Photography credit: Fred Romero
Denys Lasdun, 1976
The concept of a National Theatre dates back to 1848, then a century later the National Theatre Act was passed designating funding for a building that could house a stage, but three performance spaces, rehearsal rooms, administrative offices, extensive foyers and public areas. It was officially opened by the Queen in 1976. Lasdun was knighted in 1976, the year the building opened and received the RIBA Gold Medal in 1977. It was listed in 1994 as Grade II*, commended as a major public building of the post-war period by one of its leading architects, reflecting new ideas in theatre design.
By 2008 a conservation plan had been produced by Howarth Tompkins, the practice who later headed the ‘NT Future’ project. From March 2013 the Cottesloe Theatre closed for 15 months, reopening as the Dorfman in 2014 with extra seating and an education space, the Clore Learning Centre. The new-build Max Rayne Production Centre has an exterior finish of aluminium fins and crumpled steel mesh, designed to complement rather than replicate the NT's distinctive ‘masonry language’.
Lansbury Lawrence Primary School
Yorke, Rosenberg and Mardall, 1951
The Grade II listed Lansbury Lawrence (formally Susan Lawrence and Elizabeth Lansbury) opened in the 1951 Festival of Britain as a showpiece of the Live Architecture exhibition in the Lansbury Estate. An interesting mid-century design with original features such as an impressive flyover staircase, it was built for the 'Live Architecture' exhibition in the Festival of Britain, 1951. The school is part of the Lansbury Estate, named after the politician, George Lansbury. The main school was originally named Susan Lawrence, who was one of the earliest female MPs. The nursery school was named Elizabeth Lansbury, who was George Lansbury's wife. The Elizabeth Lansbury School was the first post-war nursery school in London, and perhaps nationally. Lansbury Lawrence is home to several Peggy Angus tiled murals. Tile panels in the entrance hall, dining hall and nursery playrooms are an original and much admired part of the building composition. Photograph credit: Diamond Geezer
Greater London Council, 1968
Designed as a 'town of tomorrow', Thamesmead’s construction began in 1967 with the first inhabitants moving in a year later. Famous for its iconic concrete construction it became a symbol of the Modernist housing movement of the 60s. However those blocks built in the first phase of construction were only the beginnings of what is today an architecturally and culturally diverse town of 45,000 people.
St Paul's Bow Common
Robert McGuire & Keith Murray, 1960
One of the most significant post war churches in Britain. The first St. Pauls, Bow Common, was a Victorian Gothic building with a tall spire and large stained glass window in the west built in 1858 with an important role in the community. It was reduced to a shell during the Blitz in 1941 and re-built with War Reparation funds to seat a minimum of 500 people. The late Revd. Gresham Kirkby radically pursued a progressive approach to re-evaluating church design and reflecting on the modern purposes of the church.
He approached a young designer in his early 20s, Keith Murray, who teamed up with the equally young and gifted Robert Maguire. The politically, socially and theologically attuned architect and designer worked together from 1958-1960. The design was informed by classical forms and the Renaissance Revival. The building is basically a stack of three diminishing cubes with ancillary spaces added at the sides. The interior features an inner ‘transparent’ but effective encircling line of colonnades that encourages inclusive relationships within the space. The wall mosaics are the work of Charles Lutyens (great-nephew of the great architect Edwin Lutyens). Photograph credit: Diamond Geezer
See the full Open House Festival guide here