Tower Hamlets Guides : Walking Tours in the East End

Lubetkin in Bethnal Green

Lubetkin in Bethnal Green

It was good recently to see a building in Bethnal Green that featured in my walk Modernism and Model Dwellings appearing in a prime time television drama.

The trailer for the first episode of Strike – the BBC’s serial dramatisation of the detective novel by Robert Galbraith (aka J K Rowling) – contained a fine shot of George Loveless House, one of the signature buildings of the Dorset Estate, built for Bethnal Green Metropolitan Borough Council in 1957 and designed by the distinguished Modernist architect Berthold Lubetkin. Here is a photo:

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This façade of the 11 – storey block – with its name changed to Elgar House -- appears in the drama a few minutes before the end of the first episode and is followed by appropriately lingering shots of the magnificent spiral staircase at the building's centre. The eponymous private detective’s discovery of a drowned body in a bath in one of the upper storey flats interrupts, but cannot entirely extinguish, our appreciation of the architecture!

I was fortunate a few years ago to be able to visit the block and get this photograph of the staircase:

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It is one of a series of brilliantly designed, infinitely photogenic, Lubetkin staircases. Here are photos of some more, all in blocks of council flats in Bethnal Green:

Berthold Lubetkin -- a Russian émigré – made a major splash on the British architectural scene between the world wars of the last century. His two tall apartment blocks in north London – Highpoints I and II – were among the first examples of the International Style to be seen in this country and are now both Grade l listed. His design of the penguin pool at London Zoo attracted much attention.

A committed communist, Lubetkin also sought to work in creating buildings for the welfare state. For Finsbury Borough Council his Finsbury Medical Centre and Spa Green Estate flats are much admired. Less well known, it seems, are three estates of council housing he designed after the Second World War for the Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green, among them the Dorset Estate with its two central blocks with Y-shaped footprint – George Loveless and James Hammett Houses. Here are shots of buildings in the other two – first the Cranbrook Estate:

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and second the Lake View Estate:

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The use by Lubetkin of huge concrete rectangular slabs on the exterior of the building to create a decorative pattern reflected a style of Modernism that would soon be overtaken, in the design of council housing particularly, by the emphatically undecorated Brutalist style which would dominate the field for decades to come.

It is good to see makers of TV drama recognising the quality which buildings like this bring to our urban landscape.

Andrew Parnell

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