The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Inner Court, Kensington, London

This case struck us as unusual because it was designed by someone we had heard of—but someone we had not known had ever actually built anything. Architectural theorists, especially ones concerned with urbanism simply cannot avoid Professor Rykwert’s ideas. Lecturer and author of several key texts on urban theory, including the seminal, The Seduction of Place, his importance to the discourse is simply incalculable. He also taught our Director when she was at Cambridge, so she was quick to point out his significance. Inner Court, it transpires, is Professor Rykwert’s only surviving building; indeed his CV does not list any others. The only other structure we have found about is a garden terrace on the roof of the Prince of Wales Theatre in Soho, which was destroyed by fire in 1969.

Tucked away behind Old Church St, Kensington, and approached through a covered alley, Inner Court is an early and intelligent solution to the problems of providing mixed-use buildings on confined sites. Essentially a mews courtyard, the upper and lower levels are connected by a huge, sweeping car ramp, the nine residential units and car-port built over the business units below. Clearly influenced by the modernism of the 1930s, Inner Court’s elegant appearance belies Rywert’s ingenious planning, which on closer inspection is manifest everywhere. No window in Inner Court overlooks another, (some feat for a building with a U-shaped plan), and in Rykwert’s use of the geometric forms he incorporated to achieve these ends, one can clearly see the influence he had on his one-time pupil, Daniel Libeskind.

We were told about a scheme by Foster Associates to demolish both Inner Court and the adjacent Jamahiriya School (1913-4) to make way for exclusive apartments. Along with the Victorian Society, we strongly opposed the planning application and thankfully it was rejected by Kensington and Chelsea Council. The well organised Old Church Street Resi-dents’ Association also sought further protection for Inner Court though, and put it forward for listing at Grade II. After a site visit, it was clear the building deserved our support.

We hope English Heritage can assure its continued survival through listing, making sure that this built expression of his influential ideas is preserved for the next generation of urban architects to learn from. The rest of us can simply enjoy trying to find it as we stroll along Old Church Street taking in the other Modernist gems by Mendelsohn and Gropius which sit nearby, just north of the Kings Road.

Jon Wright