Thursday 26 April 2018

Picture Post 67 - Hightrees House, Classic Art Deco in Clapham

Hightrees House on Nightingale Lane overlooks Clapham Common and is a short step from Clapham South tube station on the Northern Line. Commissioned by the Central London Property Trust Ltd, construction was completed in 1938. The architect responsible was RWH Jones who is best known for designing the iconic Saltdean Lido just outside Brighton as well as a number of hotels.

The building has 110 units, most of them three bedroom flats but there are also some with four bedrooms and a few bedsits, all arranged off central corridors. Many apartment blocks constructed during the 1930's offered a range of ultra-modern conveniences in order to attract residents and Hightrees House was no exception. The basement included a restaurant, bar and swimming pool as well as storage space for the deck chairs set out on the flat roof during good weather. Other modern features included the provision of electric heaters, radios and clocks in the living rooms. The building still has a swimming pool as well as a gym and 24 hour porter service. Sadly the bar and restaurant are no more. The early tenants would also have had easy access to the former Balham Odeon Cinema, another impressive Art Deco building less than ten minutes walk away.

Despite the modern design, the convenient location near to the tube and good local facilities, the outbreak of war just one year after construction was completed meant that it was difficult to attract takers. In response to this, the lessees formed a company, High Trees House Ltd, which negotiated a 50% reduction in rent in 1940. By 1945 the flats had all been taken and the landlords took legal action to both set a new rent and recover monies lost during the War. The landlords were able to raise the rent from 1945 onwards but lost their case for retrospective payments in a landmark judgement given by Lord Denning.

Hightrees House has been very well maintained. The red bricks contrast beautifully with the white concrete curved balconies placed on the facade and ends of the block. The balconies taper as the building rises. There is also a "thermometer" - an impressive glazed stairwell on the front of the building and stylised lighting at the entrance to the grounds. An extra floor has been added in recent years and although it is slightly recessed, it is clearly visible from the street and detracts somewhat from the original design.

Clapham has a number of excellent Art Deco and modernist buildings. Look out for most posts on them - coming soon!

Sunday 15 April 2018

Josef Berlin - Modernism in Tel-Aviv

Josef Berlin was born in Mogilev in today's Belarus in 1877. He studied at St. Petersburg Academy of Art graduating  in 1911, going on to win several architectural competitions. He designed at least a dozen buildings for various municipalities and banks before making Aliyah (emigration to Israel) in 1921. Once in Israel he obtained work as the Chief Architect in the Public Works Department of the trade union Histadrut. During his three years there, he designed a number of buildings in Tel-Aviv including the Electric Corporation on HaHashmal Street, a textile factory and a number of private houses. These included the Shapira House in Bialik Street which later became a synagogue. In recent years the building has been surrounded by hoardings, awaiting renovation.

Former Ha'aretz print works, 56 Mazeh, built 1932
When Berlin arrived in Tel Aviv the prevalent architectural style was Eclecticism which combined elements of art nouveau with Oriental and Biblical motifs. Although influenced by this style, he did not adopt it in its entirety. He preferred to work with elements of classical architecture whilst using locally available materials including concrete and lime mortar. Leaving the Hisadrut in 1924, he formed a partnership with Richard Pancovsky, a civil engineer from Czechoslovakia. Together they founded the Association of Engineers and Architects operating out of the Twin Building a 7-9 Mazeh Street which was designed by Berlin and included his family home. Today the building houses a bookshop and a cafe.This new venture initially included a school of architecture under Berlin's direction but it closed after one year. Pacovsky had trained in Prague and he may have introduced his new partner to the work of Skupina, an influential Czech avant-garde movement.

Former Moghrabi Cinema, completed 1930
Berlin's iconic Moghrabi cinema was completed in 1930. For this project he pioneered the use of silicate bricks and from then onwards dropped all classical references. Examples of his work with this material can still be seen at 46 Allenby and in his son, Ze'ev's work at the fabulous former home of the poet Ravnitzki at Ahad Ha'am 80. Sadly, the Moghrabi was damaged by a fire in 1986 and was demolished. Many older Tel-Aviv residents still have memories of it. Another of his designs, the Ohel Mo'ed synagogue on Shadal Street, was completed in 1931.  This building which still stands, is best admired from the inside where you can look up into its mesmerising dome. The Ravnitzki house, built in 1929, is currently under restoration and hidden behind hoardings.

Ravnitzki House, 80 Ahad Ha'am, completed 1930.
Dome interior, Ohel Mo'ed Synagogue, Shadal Street, completed 1931.
Ze'ev Berlin was born in 1906 and trained as an architect in Brussels. On his return to Tel-Aviv in 1932 he worked in partnership with his father and then, in 1936, moved to Haifa and established his own practice. During the period of their partnership, they designed several buildings in the city including the recently restored apartment building at 82 Rothschild and my favourite Berlin structure
the former Ha'aretz newspaper print works. This modernist gem tucked away at 56 Mazeh, was built in 1932 to the designs of father and son. Mazeh is primarily a residential street and would have been completely so at the time the print works were constructed. It is surprising that permission was granted for a noisy industrial unit that may well have operated through the night, printing the next day's edition.

Ha'aretz left the building some years ago but the current owners have retained the original facade, maintaining it in excellent condition. It has strong features, with extensive use steel framed glass, rounded balconies and balustrades and a cantilevered roof. However the highlight for me is the glazed corner stairwell that gives views into the zigzag staircase, adding drama to the design. Its squared-off corner contrasts with the curves of the rest of the balconies. It is possible to peep through the door and see a reproduced image of the building back in the 1930's. The only significant difference is that it still bore the name of the newspaper on the facade. 

Some commentators have compared the former print works to the early works of Bauhaus luminary Walter Gropius and those of Erich Mendelsohn who deigned the de la Ware pavilion in Sussex. But I feel that this is Berlin's own style drawing on his experience to create a modernist masterpiece - small but very beautiful. Josef Berlin designed at least 83 public and private buildings in Tel-Aviv, several of which can still be seen. He died in 1952 aged 75, whilst Ze'ev lived on until 1961.

Apartment building, 82 Rothschild, completed in 1932, restored 2013.

Wednesday 11 April 2018

Swedish Modernism - Functionalism in Stockholm.

Modernist architecture swept across much of Europe during the 1930's. Whilst many of the new buildings were commissioned by wealthy individuals, a number of cities adopted the style for social housing programmes. Prague, Vienna, Rotterdam and Stuttgart all developed modernist estates for working class families. Each of these developments were based on the main principles of modernism including the use of new materials, access to outside space and a clean, healthy environment. In some cases, local influences also played a part in design and a different name was given to the style, emphasising this. In Sweden, functionality was emphasised and the style tagged Functionalism or "Funks" in Swedish.

Swedish Modernism received its greatest stimulus in 1930 with the staging of the Stockholm Exhibition. Inspired by the 1927 Exhibition at the Weissenhof Estate in Stuttgart, the Stockholm event ran from May to September and showcased the work of contemporary Swedish artists, craftsmen and designers. A number of temporary buildings were constructed for the event under the direction of architects Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz. Asplund had only just abandoned his earlier neo-classical style in favour of a stripped down modernism, the style adopted for the Exhibition.  As well as bringing Swedish design to an international audience, the event resulted in several commissions for modernist buildings. 

A number of social housing units in and around Kungsklippan a street in the Kungsholmen neighbourhood were built just a few years after the Exhibition. There are some spectacular examples of Funkis on Kungsklippan itself as well as a series of high rise apartment buildings in the surrounding streets. The apartments were built from reinforced concrete and although small each one included a fitted kitchen, bathroom and a balcony, implementing the principles of using modern materials and providing a healthy environment.  The first residents moved-in in 1934 and the Kungsklippan Housing Association was formed at the same time. It is now Sweden's second largest social housing organisation. Sven Wallander was the architect responsible for developing most of the area as well as for designing many other buildings in the city. 

Apartment building, Kungsklippen
Balconies, Kungsklippan
John Ericssonsgatan is a short walk from Kungsklippan. Number 6 is home to Stockholm's first collective housing unit. Built in 1935, it was designed by architect Sven Markelius who worked with fellow Social Democrat Party member, Alva Myrdal to draw up not just an architectural plan but also a plan for living. The building included a communal dining room on the ground floor from which meals could be sent directly to individual apartments by means of a "dumb-waiter" lift system whilst residents could also benefit from the services of a 24 hour childcare service.

These services were part of Myrdal's strategy for enabling women to go to work and to become "productive" and avoid becoming "indolent, fat and self-absorbed". These ideas were set out in her book Crisis in Population where she declared housework only fit for those who are "...frail, imbecilic, lazy, unambitious, or generally less get on with life". Myrdal herself chose not to live in a communal environment, preferring a house in the leafy suburb of Broma for her and her family. She was not the only one to have this preference and over time the working class families left the building to be replaced by bourgeois radicals, more likely to share her philosophy. Myrdal's radical views were not restricted to living arrangements. She also advocated compulsory sterilisation for the 10% least productive members of the population and is credited with influencing legislation introduced in 1934 that included forced sterilisation on eugenic principles. These laws were not repealed until 1975. She received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1982.

Markelius also designed the Helsingborg Concert Hall in 1932, was nominated to the board of design consultants for the UN Secretariat building in 1952 and later worked as a city planner. he was awarded a gold medal by the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1962.

Collective house, John Ericssonsgatan
Pahlman Institute, Sveavagen
But back to the house. The building's striking orange facade has a series of four slightly recessed columns that give the impression of waves or folds depending on the angle from which it is viewed. Each flat has a rounded balcony and access to the still working dumb-waiter that delivers food from the very nice Petite France restaurant located in the former communal kitchen on the ground floor.  The simple stews  and soups of the 1930's have been replaced with French patisserie and a menu that attracts the city's young professionals. It's funny how things turn out.

Sveavagen is a long boulevard that runs from Sergels Torg in the centre of the city to Haga Park in the north. Two wonderful examples of functionalism can be found there. Pahlman's training institute at 82-88 was built in 1930 and designed by Mauritz Dahlberg. This huge structure covers almost an entire block, with residential units above ground floor commercial premises. For the most part, the long facade is flat and austere but the at one corner there are five fabulous rectangular balconies and a curved, protruding tower running from the second floor to one above roof level. There are clear Bauhaus influences on this building. Pahlman's was established in 1881 as an institute for the teaching of business accountancy, marketing and writing, taking up residence here when construction was completed. Dahlberg studied at the Stockholm School of Engineering and was responsible for designing several buildings in the city in the 1930's and 40's. 

Detail, Pahlman Institute.
Sveavagen is also home to one of Stockholm's most iconic buildings and an early example of modernism which includes elements of functionalism and one or two Art Deco touches.  The Stockholm Public Library was completed and opened in 1928. Designed by the already mentioned Gunnar Asplund it is constructed in geometric forms with a cube surrounding a cylinder. The exterior siena-painted brick walls are topped with a decorative freeze carrying motifs of different library subjects and text in different languages. Asplund was also responsible for designing the terraces and the area surrounding the library, providing a link with nature. 

The interior is stunning. A small lobby decorated with scenes from Homer's Iliad leads to a narrow staircase that draws visitors intro the spectacular rotunda - the circular book hall. The room holds about 40,000 volumes arranged on three levels. It is a breathtakingly beautiful site (especially to this former Librarian!) and a real palace for learning, literacy and literature. Many original features have been retained, including the furniture made from black linoleum, leather and mahogany and beautiful Art Deco drinking fountains in the two large subject rooms that flank the main hall. The children's library includes a small story room with a fresco painted by Nils Dardel depicting an imaginary scene.

Asplund has been acknowledged as the father of Swedish modernist architecture. He also designed the Skandia theatre, built in 1923 which has a largely classical facade (with the exception of the doors and external lighting) but sports a stunning Art Deco interior (closed at the time of my visit) and the UNESCO World Heritage listed Woodland Cemetery, completed in 1920. The cemetery was a joint project with Sigurd Lewerentz.

Stockholm Public Library
The circular book hall
Detail, subject room drinking fountain 
There are examples of the Funkis buildings all over the city. Their distinctive balconies make them easy to identify despite the range of styles used in this single decorative (yet functional) feature of their facades. These include neat semi-circles, rectangular balconies of various sizes with solid, mesh or corrugated guards. A little indulgence to finish with...

Apartment block in central Stockholm
Apartment block in Olaf Palme Street.
Balconies in Kungsklippan