Finsbury Health Centre – Joint docomomo uk/C20 Society/ICOMOS UK statement
Finsbury Health Centre in London, designed by the architect Berthold Lubetkin and opened in 1938, is seriously dilapidated and in urgent need of repair. Its future has effectively been put on hold by prolonged debate over its potential to deliver modern National Health Service facilities.
The Twentieth Century Society and ICOMOS-UK jointly call for a swift resolution to the debate over its future use, to halt ongoing deterioration of this outstanding building.
Finsbury Health Centre celebrated the marriage of modernist architecture with socialist reforming zeal. It used architecture to bring light, colour and accessible space as well as medical care to people from one of the poorest London Boroughs in the 1930s.
Finsbury Health Centre is an important milestone in modernist architecture – an internationally acclaimed architect, Lubetkin, working with a municipal authority.
The Health Centre is now a Grade I Listed Building, and thus recognised and protected for its architectural quality.
Islington Council and English Heritage, together with Lubetkin’s daughter Sasha and local campaigners, all support the idea that the building should remain within the National Health Service. The significance of the building is linked to its continuing use as a health centre.
Although the Health Centre was designed to respond flexibly to changing needs, its owners, Islington Primary Care Trust (PCT), consider that the costs of keeping the building are prohibitive.
Studies carried out by a conservation architect have demonstrated that the building could be adapted and updated for use as a clinic.
We welcome the enthusiasm of the local community for its current use to continue and endorse the view that this would retain its heritage value most fully. However, other uses might also preserve the building’s architectural and historic significance, whilst allowing continued public access.
Martin Klute, Chair of Islington Council’s Health Scrutiny Committee, a statutory body charged with reviewing the future of Finsbury Health Centre, has concluded:
The overwhelming evidence is that closure cannot be justified on healthcare, financial, fitness-for-purpose or planning grounds. It is also clear that the likely cost of disposing of the building, because of its current neglected and dilapidated state, would be more or less the same as the cost of a restoration and refurbishment project.
The worst case scenario is prolonged indecision, allowing continuing deterioration of Finsbury Health Centre.
If the PCT is prepared to change its decision and keep Finsbury Health Centre in use, then the future of the building will be secured. If not, the matter will be referred to the Secretary of State for Health. However, with recent elections at local council as well as national level, such a referral could delay a decision for many months, which could be critical to the building’s long term survival.
For further information, please contact ICOMOS UK and The Twentieth Century Society on the addresses below.
International Council on Monuments and Sites UK (ICOMOS)
70 Cowcross Street
+44 (0)20 7566 0031
Contact: Susan Denyer, ICOMOS UK Secretary
The Twentieth Century Society
70 Cowcross Street
+44 (0) 20 7250 3857
Contact: Jon Wright, Caseworker C20 Society
About The Twentieth Century Society
The Twentieth Century Society is a membership organisation which campaigns for the conservation of the best C20th architecture. It was founded in 1976 as the Thirties Society and is now recognised by government and has a statutory role in the planning process. For more details, see our website, www.c20society.org.uk.