In 1937, the UK, for a brief moment, became the epicentre of progressive contemporary architecture in Europe. On the centenary of the opening of Germany’s most famous art school, RIBA’s new exhibition, Beyond Bauhaus – Modernism in Britain 1933 to 1966, running until 1 February 2020, looks afresh at the moment Britain became Modern. Anchored in the brief period when three notable Bauhaus émigrés, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer and László Moholy-Nagy, lived and worked in Britain, it examines the reciprocal impact and legacy of this fertile moment in British architectural history.
On 1 November 2019, coinciding with the exhibition, for one night only visitors will be able to get inside London’s iconic Grade 1 listed Isokon Building to hear from experts on the history of this celebrated structure and its avant-garde residents. Established in 1934 as one of Britain’s earliest examples of Modernist architecture, the Isokon’s narrative begins with a design firm of the same name, founded by Jack and Molly Pritchard and architect Wells Coates. Their debut project was to design an apartment building and its interior based on the principle of affordable, communal and well-designed city living.
With its curved forms and pale render, the Isokon Building, also known as Lawn Road Flats, has been likened to an ocean liner. Molly Pritchard wrote the brief and described the kind of people that she felt should be catered for: “young, professional men and women with few possessions.” The small but well equipped flats also provided services such as cleaning and bed making and meals were available in the Isobar downstairs, designed by Breuer and F.R.S. Yorke. The building’s list of illustrious former residents includes Agatha Christie, Breuer and Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus. J.M. Richards, the architectural critic, wrote that it was “more like the machine-à-habiter than anything Le Corbusier ever designed.”
Organised around two sessions, the upcoming evening will feature contributions from RIBA curators Valeria Carullo and Pete Collard, authors Magnus Englund and Leyla Daybelge, alongside special insights from John Allan, former Director of Avanti Architects, responsible for the building’s restoration, British architectural historian Elizabeth Darling and Hampstead spy ring expert Stewart Purvis. The first session, running from 6–7.30pm, will focus on the personalities living in and around the Isokon Building. The space was a pioneering model for communal urban living and the presence of its influential residents from the continent helped to galvanise enthusiasm among a community of young architects in the UK. The second session, running from 7.30–9pm explores the Isokon as a significant icon of British Modernism.
Book tickets here.
Feature image: The Isokon Building (via Pinterest)