The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Photos Simon Kennedy via Brixton Rec Users Group

Brixton Recreation Centre listed

I’m delighted that Brixton Rec has been listed at Grade II. It was designed for Lambeth Council in 1970 by a team led by George Finch, whose widow Kate Mackintosh (herself an architect) took me round when it was threatened with closure. She’s been a great supporter of the campaign, and the Brixton Rec Users Group have done a fantastic job of showing how it still functions as a beautiful and socially inclusive place to swim and exercise—check their website which has a great video clip of George Finch giving a tour from Tom Cordell’s Utopia London film.

One of the reasons given is “cultural importance”, with the report noting that it was visited by Nelson Mandela as part of his historic state visit in 1996, but its “sculptural concrete forms” and great use of natural light were also strong factors leading to listing. Less well remembered now is the fact that it was to be the first phase of  Ted Hollamby’s massive replanning of Brixton, which was going to feature extensive elevated pedestrian walkways (members saw the extraordinary model of this scheme when we visited Lambeth Archives). It’s built over six levels, with three pools and lots of other facilities including a bowls hall at the base of the main atrium and a shooting gallery (the former is flourishing, and you can lean over and what play, the latter is long out of use). The construction programme began in 1974, and was dogged by problems all too typical of the decade. It was finally completed in 1985, notoriously nine years behind schedule and many times over budget. However it really is a splendid building, and almost completely unaltered, with its excellent robust detailing holding up supremely well. I’m planning a celebratory swim there this weekend, and suggest you might like to do so too.

Catherine Croft