Skip to content

The Lawn Road Flats (Isokon Building)

Updated Monday 26th November 2001

In Hampstead, Wells Coates out-Corbusiered Corbusier.

The Lawn Road Flats Creative commons image Icon stevecadman under CC-BY-SA licence under Creative-Commons license

Architect:
Wells Coates, (Canada)

 

Construction Date:
1933 - 1934

Location:
Hampstead, London

A Vision for Modern Living

Isokon was a design firm established by Jack and Molly Pritchard in 1931. The original intention was that the firm should make flats, houses, and furniture. These would be designed by Wells Coates, a Canadian émigré. The Pritchards and Wells Coates shared a common fascination with the problems of city living in the modern age - both had met Le Corbusier, and Coates had attended CIAM's 1933 Congress.

In 1932 the newly-formed company gave Coates a brief to build a block of service flats in Lawn Road, north London, to be fitted out with Isokon designed furniture. Each was to be built to a standard plan. The block was opened in July 1934. For the young professionals who moved in, life was made as pleasant as possible by the provision of built-in cooking and washing facilities. Residents could also make use of laundry facilities and the communal restaurant (the 'Isobar') which was installed later. The idea was that tenants could move in with a minimum of belongings.

Wells Coates commented to The Listener in 1933; "We cannot burden ourselves with permanent tangible possessions as well as our real new possessions of freedom, travel, new experience- in short, what we call 'life'."

A Giant Ocean Liner

Wells Coates' biographer, J.M. Richards, believes that these flats are "nearer to the machine á habiter than anything Corbusier ever designed". The block showcases perfectly Wells' belief in the benefits of minimal living- gone is the unnecessary ornamentation of the Victorian house; in its place is a small, clean, furnished, centrally-heated apartment. Agatha Christie, one of Lawn Road's famous residents, compared the exterior to a giant ocean liner, so clean and striking is Wells' design.

The desire to create a organic community is also clear: Wells wrote to Jack Pritchard; "My scheme provides a place which every actor in this drama can call his own place, and further than that my idea of property does not go. This is the room where I sleep, this is where I work, and this is where I eat. This is the roof garden where everyone can turn out...This is the garden where everyone goes. It's like a park."

And as soon as the block opened, it was filled with refugees from Nazi Germany. Bauhaus leading lights Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer (who was to design the Isobar), and Hungarian-born architect Lazslo Moholy-Nagy all lived at Lawn Road in the years before the War.

Decline and Rebirth

But the War put paid to the Isokon company, as Pritchard was unable to import necessary materials for building from the continent, and after the war the flats failed to attract the same eclectic mix that had lived there in the 1930s. In 1955, the whole block was given a stucco makeover, spoiling their imposing appearance, and after a brief stint in the ownership of the New Statesman, the flats were transferred to Camden Council in 1972. The Isobar was closed and the sense of community which had been such a part of the Isokon experiment was lost.

Plans are now underway for the Notting Hill Housing Trust to take over the building, and to renovate it. Thirty-six flats will be refurbished, twenty-five of which will form part of the government's "key workers" scheme for public service workers. The others will be sold on the open market.

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

Wells Coates Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Copyright article icon

History & The Arts 

Wells Coates

His parents were missionaries - and some of their zeal can be seen in Coates' approach to architecture.

Article
Britain's Great War: Download your free 'The First World War Experienced' booklet Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license article icon

History & The Arts 

Britain's Great War: Download your free 'The First World War Experienced' booklet

From casualties to commemoration, explore the realities of war with this free booklet.

Article
History battles – How we remember the past Creative commons image Icon By Lin Kristensen from New Jersey, USA (Timeless Books) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons under Creative-Commons license article icon

History & The Arts 

History battles – How we remember the past

How we teach history could be changing. Back to the bad old days, or could the 'voices from below' make themselves heard?

Article
How typical is your family? Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

History & The Arts 

How typical is your family?

Evelyn Kerslake explains how demographics can help you understand your family history.

Article
Should Trump's tweets be a matter of record? Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: US Capitol article icon

History & The Arts 

Should Trump's tweets be a matter of record?

When the President deletes a tweet, he's wiping out material of value to historians. Potentially. Shontavia Johnson explains what's at risk.

Article
Aftershocks - The Glorious Revolution Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Wark Clements article icon

History & The Arts 

Aftershocks - The Glorious Revolution

Fear that generousity to Catholics might lead to a full switch back to Rome sparked the Glorious Revolution

Article
Whose war was it, anyway? Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

History & The Arts 

Whose war was it, anyway?

Bill Purdue asks some searching questions about popular views of the second world war.

Article
What is heritage? Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission free course icon Level 1 icon

History & The Arts 

What is heritage?

What is heritage? This free course will introduce you to the concept of heritage and its critical study, exploring the role of heritage in both past and contemporary societies.

Free course
10 hrs
Change and progress in the post-war years Creative commons image Icon TheNationalArchive via Flickr under Creative-Commons license audio icon

History & The Arts 

Change and progress in the post-war years

Diarist Linton Andrews observes how women refused to relinquish the new roles they developed during the Second World War; and the impact of rationing.

Audio
5 mins