The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Casework Report

National Sports Centre

Good news first; the Society can announce that there has been an about turn in the plan for the National Sports Centre at Crystal Palace which for some years now has been under intense pressure and threat of demolition. Both the London Development Agency (LDA) and locals have pushed very hard for the sports centre to be flattened. In order to visualise an alternative, the Society in 2005 teamed up with Julian Harrap Architects who suggested a bold scheme that would see the pool building retained and the open stadium next door moved to the top of the park; the park itself would be restored in parts to its Victorian layout and with some of its lost historic sports elements brought back .  Our scheme was welcomed by both the Victorian Society who said that “imaginative plans for the country’s most important municipal park are long overdue” and by the Garden History Society who agreed with us that “the park today is depressing and barren and the C20 Society/Harrap proposals offer a well balanced way forward”. The LDA did not entirely go with our scheme but now propose to keep the sports centre and turn it into an indoor football facility, clearing away the low level structures surrounding the building.

Senate House

Charles Holden’s building for the University of London impresses immediately through its uncompromising silhouette and stark unadorned façades. But once inside the building a different picture opens up; the foyer spaces and main meeting rooms are lavishly fitted, and the interior is generally very formally laid out, maybe with more decoration than would be expected even from a hybrid Modernist/Classicist like Holden.

The University of London who occupy the building are faced with changing requirements and are now proposing to integrate library space on the third floor, an area which is subdivided into many small, cell-like office spaces. For the installation of library shelving those cells would disappear and with them the existing masonry partitions. These partitions were not in place when the building opened in 1938 but are understood to have been built just over a decade later, to designs by Holden’s office. So the question is; is this ‘original’ fabric? Do we need to preserve all traces of  ‘phase 2’ of Holden’s design? Or would it be reasonable to let the University re-programme the building? While this question needs to be answered with the help of more research, it was interesting to see a charming ceiling painting in a naïf idiom, not very well known and done in the ‘30s by then students of the Royal Academy. Holden encouraged young talent, and a student competition was held to paint six of the common rooms in the building. The Royal College painting is the only survivor and we have asked the University to make it as accessible as practically possible instead of concealing it visually by large shelving.

Trafford Town Hall

Trafford Town Hall of 1933 is a good example of the municipal work by architects Bradshaw Gass and Hope; a symmetrical façade with a landmark tower, and inside a grand staircase as you would expect from a town hall of that era.  The Society has put the building forward for spot listing.

Prospect Inn

Oliver Hill’s only public house is located in Minster, Kent, near the seaside town of Ramsgate. But while this might have been a good location for a roadside house in 1939, the building’s surroundings have changed dramatically. Prospect Inn looks now out onto a four lane carriageway, and Kent International Airport, soon to be re-launched as a destination of cheap flights to Europe, is virtually next door. So this is not exactly the place where one would want to enjoy a leisurely Sunday roast or quiet evening pint. And hence the building has been vacant for years. But the Holiday Inn chain has cast their eye on the frail beauty and has applied to build a hotel behind it, with the pub attached as a lounge area. Considering the grim surroundings this might be one of very few viable uses, but we are still in contact with the local authority about design issues that ought to be resolved to restore the pub.

New Ash Green

New Ash Green is Span heaven. Architect Eric Lyons and Span Developments Ltd after a failed attempt got planning permission to build houses for 5-6000 people, arranged in neighbourhoods and bound together by landscaping. The centre of this new town was built in the same spirit; a picturesquely arranged group of shops, featuring the typical Span materials and shapes, and served by an organically bent pedestrian street. Today the ground floor units of this shopping centre work well, while spaces on the first floor have proved less successful, as in all such developments. But while the higher level could be converted, probably most easily into flats, the local council seem to favour demolition. For New Ash Green as an architectural whole this would be a loss. Would not stringent maintenance and some re-planning of spaces be a more sensitive approach? We think this is worth exploring, and there are local residents who fight very hard for the appreciation and retention of their town centre. Together we can hopefully instigate a more appropriate scheme.

Cordula Zeidler