Minimal Existence

Lawn Road Flats, Belsize Park.
September 2001.

Measure went to visit the Lawn Road Flats  in the spring of 2001 and found one of London’s great modernist buildings in a semi-derelict state. It had been handed to Camden Council who had used it as council housing for the last 20 years and it had suffered serious neglect. All the tennets had been moved out except one lady on the ground floor and the communal garage was full of the belongings they had left behind. The building was in the process of being sold to Notting Hill Housing Trust who were going to restore it as key worker flats. Measure worked with both Camden and the Trust on the exhibition who used the exhibition as a platform to launch the restoration project.

10 artists work was installed throughout the building, opening the Isokon up to the public for the first in its history. Measure once again partnered up with London Open House for the weekend and received thousands of visitors.

The artists that showed in Minimal Existence were:
Dan Dixon-Spain
Michelle Williams
Simon Day
Richard Evans
Hannah Wilson
Amanda Townsend
Caroline Jupp
Josephine Butler
Duncan Whitley
Matt O’Dell

The Isokon flats were commissioned by Jack Pritchard and designed in partnership with architect Wells Coates. The building was completed in 1934.

Initially conceived as apartments for the intelligentsia of the day, these compact flats were fully serviced and food could be ordered from a kitchen run by a leading chef. From 1937, the on site Isobar Club, designed by Marcel Breuer, attracted a cosmopolitan and artistic membership including Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth. Among early residents were Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer who had fled from Nazi Germany. Both men were later to design furniture for Jack Pritchard’s Isokon Furniture Company.

Jack Pritchard lived in the penthouse apartment at the Isokon until his death in 1992 and witnessed the slow decline of his Modernist dream. The high ideals on which it was founded had little place in the day to day lives of many of Isokon’s subsequent tenants.

 

Memories of the building by those who built, designed and lived in it:

“What is the essential intention of the art of architecture? Reduced to it’s simplest elements, architecture is the art s providing ordered shelter for a multitude of human activities…Every change in human conditions brings with it new possibilities of relationships of human needs, and the necessity to order them anew to give them form, and freedom, and fullness and richness of life…As creative architects we are concerned with a Future which must be planned, rather than a past which must be patched up”
Wells Coates, 1934

“For an observing architect from abroad, this building became an exciting housing laboratory, both socially and technically, it’s positive qualities are exceeding its shortcomings”.
Walter Gropius

“None of us, I suspect, would agree exactly what are the most memorable modern English buildings of the thirties and I must risk my personal choice. I will place first wells Coates Isokon Flats in Lawn road, Hampstead (1933-34) where both the client, J Craven Prichard and the architect felt themselves to be the agent of a new force in English Architecture and t be breaking the ice…”
Sir John Summerson, 1959, Modern Architecture in Britain

“Helping Morton Shand and Max Fry to release Walter and Ise Gropius from the degradation of Nazi Germany to live and work another day is surely similar to working with Max Nicholson and PEP to think anew about our own country. There are many of us who want to stir up the status quo and search for a better way to go…”
Jack Pritchard, Preface to ‘View from a Long Chair’

“The Isobar became the only restaurant where bananas and \cream could be served in wartime (the banana had become extinct) Robert first bought up an old stock of tinned cream, then went round Soho buying packets of dried bananas and so made ‘bananas and cream’”
Jack Pritchard, View From a Long Chair

“Our arrival in the fall of 1934 in London and our subsequent stay for two and a half years in one of the apartments of the Lawn Road flats marked an entirely new chapter in our life an it is hard to think of any shelter in London that would have made us quite as happy…we cherished the privilege to be among the first to explore the features of this radical new attempt at apartment building. We loved the sociability of the whole layout, the honest unpretentiousness of the exterior and the excellently planned flats”.
Walter and Ise Gropius

“After nearly a years tenancy I would like to say how pleased I am with the place and with the service given. In my opinion a single flat here is the ideal home for a single person living in London. I am very thankful I decided to move in; my friends said I would find a modern concrete block noisy. If it is, I must be deaf.”
Paul Reilly, former tenant

“It is good to know the Lawn Road Flats will have a birthday, just like any other human being. I always liked that girl and I think she id getting younger from year to year. She is a generous wench, a friendly and hospitable one – not too careful with what she has. I wish all pretty girls were the same…I’ sure you agree! In other words, let me send this note off as a birthday card for Lawn Road Flats and if it sounds a bit nostalgic it is only because it reminds me that already nineteen years have passed since I lived with her.”
Breuer, in a letter marking Isokon’s 21st birthday.

“ …those two people, Jack and Molly Prichard, who were, if I may say so, the originating and presiding genius over this establishment, will see to it that in the near future something of that essential spirit of the place will be recaptured and will go on”.
Henry Morris, 14/07/55, Isokon’s 21st birthday party