Great Arthur House Including Boiler House is a grade two (II) listed building in Golden Lane Estate Designed Landscape, City of London, London, EC1M. It was first listed in 1997.
About Great Arthur House Including Boiler House
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TQ 3282 SW 627-0/3/10169
GOLDEN LANE (east side) Great Arthur House, including boiler house
Block of 120 flats over ground-floor estate offices. Won in competition 1952, built to revised designs 1953-7; competition winner Geoffry Powell, architects for scheme Chamberlin, Powell and Bon. Reinforced concrete construction on concrete raft foundations, the side walls given painted pick-hammered finish, the main east and west elevations clad in golden yellow opaque and clear glass in aluminium frames, fair-faced concrete finishes internally. Pick-hammering with grey brick infill to ground floor.
Seventeen storeys and basement, with eight one-bedroom flats set in handed pairs on each upper floor, reached by central lifts and with an escape stair at each end of block. Principal elevations with paired cantilevered balconies of painted concrete to each flat, each pair divided by wired glass screen and with wired glass sides. The aluminium frame holding the cladding also forms the windows, with horizontal sliding opening lights (having distinctive internal security rail) and top hung night ventilators. Timber windows to kitchens and bathrooms set behind balconies, reached via timber doors from living rooms.
Ground floor offices and basement sub-station with timber windows. Large lift lobby in centre, with to side an open way linking the two halves of the estate. The side elevations with set-back glazed centres (to escape stairs) which successfully reduce the bulk of the block. Asphalted roof set out as rooftop garden on two main levels reached by open staircases with timber pergola, stepping stones and pool; the water tank and lift motor room are disguised behind aerofoil canopy that is the distinctive decorative feature of the estate – ‘the first time that such arbitrary, purely decorative or purely expressionist motifs appeared in London’, noted Pevsner and Cherry (The Buildings of England), referring to the evolution of a distinctly 1950s’ style.
Interiors are simple. The flats have a sliding partition between the living room and bedroom. Kitchen and bathroom fixtures not of special interest. The flats screened from the central corridor by a series of fitted cupboards, including the letter box. This building is the principal vertical element in the estate, and was the first block of flats to break the London County Council’s 100ft height restriction; when completed it was briefly the tallest inhabited building in England.
HISTORY AND ANALYSIS
At the end of the Second World War the area between St Paul’s and the northern boundary of the City lay devastated. It had been largely filled with late Victorian commercial and warehouse buildings, but photographs taken in 1945 show only isolated walls and mounds of rubble filling the deep basements. The County of London Plan allowed this area to retain a mixed commercial use, though in many areas it adopted the policy of dispersing industry out of central London.
Some housing provision was, however, required for the small population connected with the City. The City Corporation provided most of its accommodation well outside its area, such as in the Old Kent Road and on Sydenham Hill, but it was agreed that it should purchase a small area of land adjacent to its boundary in Finsbury. This became the Golden Lane Estate. 4.7 acres were acquired by compulsory purchase in February 1951, and in May 1954 the site was extended to the Goswell Road, making a total of almost seven acres in all. In 1951 an open competition was held, assessed by Donald McMorran in February 1952. It was the first important housing competition since that for Churchill Gardens in 1945 and attracted 178 entries, nearly half as many again as in 1945. Among the entries were two prepared by three lecturers in architecture at the Kingston School of Art, who had agreed to form a partnership if either scheme won. That submitted by Geoffry Powell was declared the winner on 26 February 1952, and thus was formed the partnership of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon.
The anticipated need was not for large family units, but for a large number of flats for single people and couples such as caretakers, nurses and policemen who had to live near their work. In practice the estate was popular from the first with professionals such as doctors, journalists, clergymen and married students. Paying the rent by cheque, as sometimes occurred here, was deemed sufficiently novel to merit a special feature in the architectural press.
The brief was supply 940 one, two, three or four room flats at the maximum possible density of 200 persons to the acre. As completed, the estate contained 1400 flats and maisonettes, a swimming pool and badminton court, a bowling green (now tennis courts), a nursery and playground, a community centre and club room, and a line of shops facing Goswell Road terminating in a pub, the Shakespeare. Powell’s competition entry was subsequently greatly amended and made less symmetrical, but its principles remained the same. The brief demanded that each block have a basement for storage underneath it, and this Powell developed by exploiting the deep basements left by the former buildings to produce a series of varied levels. By erasing the pre-war road pattern and by making the development inward-facing around a series of courtyards he made a virtue of the original lack of street frontage to Goswell Road.
The layout changed considerably after 1952. In part this was due to the original site being extended, in 1955, in part to an increasing flexibility regarding the height of blocks which allowed Great Arthur House to be built higher than originally proposed. To achieve the necessary density the scheme required that many of the smaller flats would be in a high tower, and this tower was from the first seen as the key element in the design, both by Powell himself and by Arthur Kenyon in The Builder for 7 March 1952. There was originally intended to be a more regular grid of flats to the east of Great Arthur House, separated by a strongly defined pedestrian access running north to south. The final layout was less rigid than this, though the strong formality which dictates the use of every inch of space remains. This was to be a key ingredient of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s philosophy of urban planning, which was to be seen again at their Barbican development immediately to the south (first plan 1954, with most of the layout agreed in 1959). Another was the provision of a wide range of facilities as well as housing on the site. A third was to remove all the original roads from the site, commemorated in the names of many of the blocks.
Other post-war housing schemes had attempted relatively little that was new in planning terms: either they had provided for high densities in uniform blocks of medium height, as at Churchill Gardens, or they were low density, small-scale developments still in the idiom of the Garden City movement, as at Lansbury. In 1957 the architects claimed, ‘There is no attempt at the informal in these courts. We regard the whole scheme as urban. We have no desire to make the project look like a garden suburb’ (Architectural Association Journal, April 1957). At Golden Lane the spaces and the relationship between the buildings were as important as the buildings themselves. ‘Special attention is paid to the floor treatment with varying textures, colours and patterns and with the floor pattern of the piazza being designed as a picture on the ground (Architectural Design, July 1953).
Golden Lane straddles a boundary between the picturesque and the formal. One curious feature in the hard landscaping is the round bastion at the northern end of the site’s central axis, an original part of the design. The urban quality and hard but richly patterned texture of the spaces are key features of the site, for by covering the entire space with architecture Chamberlin, Powell and Bon anticipated what they were to do later at the Barbican. The result has worn exceptionally well. In 1964 Ian Nairn considered the estate to have ‘a powerful sense of place’ (Modern Buildings in London, 1964). The only significant alterations have been made to the pub under Crescent House, whose interior is now a Victorian pastiche.
Writing on Golden Lane is dominated by discussion of an unplaced scheme by Alison and Peter Smithson, which was later widely published. That work and the unplaced scheme by Jack Lynn and Gordon Ryder, the former later to design the Park Hill flats in Sheffield, were to be the first demonstration of very long decks of medium-rise housing in Britain. Yet the formality, three-dimensional planning and spatial complexity of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s formal grid was a more personal response to the need to build high urban densities, that reflected contemporary antipathy to suburban developments such as the New Towns just as had the work of the Smithsons and Lynn, but which created a total environment in which every inch of space had a purpose. Golden Lane was a complex mixture of the new formality emerging in British architecture in the early 1950s with a picturesque attention to landscape in which the spaces were almost as important as the buildings themselves; this was the secret of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s success in creating a sense of place.
Stylistically the early blocks, completed in 1957, stand out from the later work by their use of coloured opaque glass cladding. Colour is a notable feature of all Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s important early works. The central block, Great Arthur House, is bright yellow while the lower blocks of flats and maisonettes are red and blue, with their construction of load-bearing brick crosswalls clearly expressed. Great Arthur House is given added presence by a curved oversailing roof feature containing the water tanks, likened by Ian Nairn to ‘a concrete aeroplane’. The roof was also provided with a pergola and water garden for the benefit of inhabitants of the upper floors.
However, it is the later blocks, and particularly that following the curve of Goswell Road, that are the key to the same architects’ later developments at the adjacent Barbican site. The Goswell Road block was completed in 1962, and its facades are of bush-hammered concrete, brick and timber forming a profile of segmental curves. It is transitional in CPB’s work between the simple curtain wall blocks of the 1950s and the harder, more structural treatment developed at the Barbican during the early 1960s. Stylistically, it is contemporary with Sir Basil Spence’s listed work at the University of Sussex in Brighton, though it is more varied in its materials. Both have as their sources Le Corbusier’s Maisons Jaoul in Paris and Stirling and Gowan’s work at Ham Common.
Comparison with big, tough Barbican next door is instructive. It becomes clear that many of the ideas of that well-known estate are present at Golden Lane. Here is the separation of transport and pedestrians, the differentiation of public spaces and private residential areas, the mix of different pedestrian levels, and the high proportion of recreational facilities. Golden Lane, however, is a unique environment, a self-sufficient ‘urban village’ in which every element of space is accounted for and every detail carefully considered. It has good claim to be the most successful of England’s housing developments from the early 1950s.
(Corporation of London Record Office: Competition records 1951-2, and surviving drawings;
Derek Bean: The Golden Lane Competition, Bartlett School MSc Thesis: 1987-;
The Builder: 29 February 1952: 324-8; The Builder: 7 March 1952: 371-81. Architects’ Journal: 20 March 1952: 354, 358-62;
Architectural Design: July 1953: 190-4; Architectural Design: September 1956: 294-8;
Architectural Review: June 1957: 415-26;
Architects’ Journal: 27 June 1957: 947-8; The Builder: 15 November 1957: 850-6)
Where is Great Arthur House Including Boiler House?
Great Arthur House Including Boiler House is located on Golden Lane, in Golden Lane Estate Designed Landscape, City of London, London, EC1M.
|Grid Reference||TQ 32194 82073|
|Easting, Northing||532194, 182073.36084|
|Latitude, Longitude||51.522109, -0.095985|
|Grade listing||II (two)|
|English Heritage List Entry Number||1021945|