The Twentieth Century Society has become aware of an application to de-list the Commonwealth Institute, a Grade II* listed building on Kensington High Street.
The Commonwealth Institute is an outstanding building of the post-war era and reflects the spirit of the Festival of Britain. The building is surprisingly little altered and the qualities that lead to its listing are intact. It is a truly iconic landmark; its complex roofscape is constructed from equilateral and ‘bastard’ hyperbolic paraboloids and represents an important and very early achievement of this kind in construction and engineering. The list description emphasises that it was the ‘first major British swept roof contribution to the international traditions of dramatic roof profiles’. The roof is said to have been the largest of its kind at the time of its construction. The building is being widely recognised as an important example that reflected and developed international tendencies in engineering combined with architectural design. The surrounding smaller administration and conference building and landscaping, designed by Sylvia Crowe, are also of high quality and threatened alongside with the main building.
None of the essential characteristics of the building and its setting have been lost and it would therefore be wholly unacceptable to de-list the building now. The de-listing application has presumably been made to make possible demolition and replacement. This would result in the loss of one of London’s most heroic post-war structures and a cultural document of the highest value. Though currently vacant, we see no reason why the Commonwealth Institute should not be retained and put back to use. Located in an affluent area of London , there must be ways in which such a landmark building could be brought back to life.
The Commonwealth Institute was built in 1960-2 to designs by Robert Matthew, Johnston-Marshall and Partners with main job architects Peter Newnham and Roger Cunliffe. The exhibition designer was James Gardner.
For more information please contact:
Cordula Zeidler, Caseworker, The Twentieth Century Society, 020 7250 3857, cordula.zeidler(at)c20society.org.uk