The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

C20 x Rapha architecture rides

A new partnership between C20 and Rapha, programming 12 months of architecture rides for RCC members.

Image: John East

C20 is excited to announce a new partnership with Rapha, the premium cycle wear brand.

As part of the Societies’ commitment to reaching new audiences for the education and celebration of twentieth century architecture, we’ve programmed a new series of ‘design rides’ for Rapha Cycling Club (RCC) members.

Over the next 12 months, these free pedal-powered tours will explore the modern architectural heritage of London and beyond, with exclusive visits to some remarkable buildings. As well as thematic routes around the capital – from Art Deco to Brutalism, Postmodern to Hi-tech –  there are destination rides planned to St Catherine’s College Cambridge, De La Warr Pavilion, the Judge Institute in Cambridge and more. Full details below.

RCC group photo from the first C20 X Rapha ride to St Catherines College Oxford (Arne Jacobsen, 1962)

Photo: Alan Morton

Checkpoint Challenge

The series begins with the first of two ‘Checkpoint Challenges’ and coincides with the annual London Design Festival. In this format, riders can build their own routes to visit some of most varied and iconic buildings across the city, providing a taster of the calendar of events for the year ahead!

Guided Rides

The dates and booking details of the guided Destination Rides and City Rides will be finalised in the coming weeks and shared on the RCC app and this webpage.

Click here for more information on RCC and to become a member.

Rapha Cycling Club – a global riding community.

Image: Rapha

Destination Rides

Saturday 22 October 2022 – St Catherine’s College, Oxford

Start Point: Richmond Park
End Point: St Catherine’s College, Oxford
117km, 850m elevation

Built in the early 1960s, the Arne Jacobsen designed St Catherine’s College Oxford exudes modernism, in every aspect – from the buildings, landscaping, unique interiors, furniture (including the famed high-back ‘Oxford’ chairs), to the crockery and flatware – fused together in harmony, with a coolness that is difficult to surpass.

(Image: Fritz Hansen)

Saturday 25 February 2023 – Judge Institute, Cambridge

Start Point: London
End Point: Judge Institute, Cambridge

Completed in 1995, John Outram’s Judge Institute has become one of Britain’s biggest and best best examples of post modern architecture, melding old – Old Addenbrooke’s Hospital – and new – The Ark, The Castle and The Gallery – through the playful and colourful architectural vernacular synonymous with the reaction to modernism.

(Image: Historic England)

April 2023 – House for Essex, Wrabness

Details to follow.

Commissioned as part of philosopher and critic Alain de Botton’s Living Architecture programme, architectural studio FAT and artist Grayson Perry collaborated to create the exuberant and colourful A House for Essex in 2015, dedicated as a shrine to the fictional character Julie Cope, on the Essex coast in Warbness.

(Image: Jack Hobhouse)

June 2023 – De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea

Details to follow.

Completed in 1935, Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff’s De La Warr Pavillion, stands as one of Britain’s best examples of International Style architecture. Following an extensive restoration in the mid-2000, the steel and concrete building remains true to it’s original intention of providing accessible culture and leisure facilities for the people of Bexhill-on-Sea and beyond.

(Image: DLWP)

City Rides

Checkpoint Ride 1 – Highlights of modern London

Millenium Dome

Richard Rogers (1999) | Hi Tech

Designed to host the Millennium Experience as part of a national festival to mark the year 2000, the Dome was conceived by Richard Rogers as the focal point of a masterplan for the contaminated Greenwich Peninsula. From its initial concept design it was topped out in only two years, and it features a circle of twelve one-hundred metre high steel masts that support a 70 kilometre network of cables covered by a canopy of lined fabric one millimetre thin. Its architecture was intended to convey optimism about the new millennium, with the Exhibition the latest in a long line of national festivals, including the Festival of Britain in 1951 and the Great Exhibition in 1851.

The design features Rogers’ signature ‘inside-out’ style placing services around the exterior and, as at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, various components are color-coded: yellow for structural elements; orange for pedestrian circulation; and red for lighting towers. The Meridian Line passes just meters away, and the building contains many allusions to the concept of time: twelve masts representing the months of the year; twenty-four ‘scallops’ at the base of the canopy for the hours of the day; and a diameter of 365 meters for each day of the year.

While the Millennium Experience was received poorly – it was expensive, over budget and visitor numbers fell far short of expectations– the Dome suffered by association, despite being delivered for £43 million which was under-budget and relatively inexpensive for a building of such scale

(Image: John East)

Isle of Dogs Pumping Station

John Outram Associates (1988) | Post Modern

Designed by John Outram, Britain’s most ‘eyecatching’ architect, the Isle of Dogs Storm Water Pumping Station deals with water run-off from surrounding streets that were being developed in the late 1980s by the London Docklands Development Corporation. Dubbed the ‘Temple of Storms’ it is fronted by a pair of oversized columns and features decorative eaves and a pediment covered in corrugated cladding. It is one of seven surviving works by the architect in the UK and not only does it present some of the strongest characteristics of the Postmodern style but it was described by English Heritage at the time of its 2017 listing as ‘one of the most exciting buildings of the 1980s’. It also marks a return to a tradition of notable municipal pumping stations, the first wave of which ended in the 1930s; some of the best known of these are Crossness in Bexley and Abbey Mills in Newham. The latter was christened – similar to Outram’s building on the Isle of Dogs – a ‘Cathedral of Sewage’.

(Image: John East)

Balfron Tower

Ernö Goldfinger (1967) | Brutalism

Designed by Ernö Goldfinger and completed in 1967, Balfron Tower is distinctive – like its better known twin, Trellick Tower – for its separate service tower linked to the principal block by walkways. These walkways and their connected decks were supposed to recreate the feeling of community the original residents were used to, most of whom were moving from rows of dilapidated terraces nearby. It was Grade II* listed in 2015 and has long been held in high regard as one of London’s most celebrated blocks of social housing. Goldfinger lived there with his wife briefly after it was completed, hosting parties for residents to solicit feedback which he would incorporate into his design for the tower’s West London counterpart. It is the largest block in the Brownfield Estate in Poplar and contains 146 units. Goldfinger’s later Carradale and Glenkerry Houses are located close by.

It has recently acquired a level of notoriety due to its refurbishment which led to existing tenants leaving and the newly renovated flats being sold off to pay for affordable homes elsewhere in the borough. While the properties are all now open plan, six have been retained as ‘heritage’ flats in recognition of the Goldfinger’s original intent. The conversion of the boiler and tank rooms at the top of the service tower into an amenity space for residents, that includes a gym and yoga studio is a marked departure from Goldfinger’s vision.

(Image: John East)

Lloyd’s Building

Richard Rogers (1986) | Hi-Tech

One of the most recognisable buildings in the City, Richard Rogers’ Lloyd’s Building is perhaps the best example of his high-tech style which, like the Dome, boasts services for the building on the exterior – here including ducts, elevators, toilets and fire escapes – to maximise space in the interior. Plans for Lloyd’s were coming together as Rogers’ was completing the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the two buildings share many parallels. The structure was completed in 1986 and it replaced Lloyd’s first headquarters which occupied the same site on Lime Street. In 2011 it received a Grade I Listing, making it at the time the youngest structure in the UK to have this designation.

A 60-metre high atrium, known as The Underwriting Room, sits at its centre and is capped with a glass barrel roof to let light in. The spaces around this are open plan and allow for quick reconfiguration, which has allowed the structure to adapt to Lloyd’s changing needs and remain a functional space well into the 21st Century. The 11th floor contains the Committee Room, an 18th century dining-room designed by Scottish neoclassical architect Robert Adam.

(Image: John East)

1 Poultry

Referred to by one critic as the Battenberg battleship, No 1 Poultry was completed five years after Sir James Stirling’s death in 1992 and it is one of the City’s most distinctive buildings with a striped façade, blue-glaze tiled courtyard and clock tower. The site was supposed to house a building by Mies van der Rohe but following a long campaign by the then Prince Charles it never went further than the German-American’s drawing board (the plans were thought lost until their relatively recent rediscovery). So instead of an 18-storey glass tower and a new public square London got a five story structure occupying the entire site comprising shops, offices and a restaurant and garden on the roof.

Described by Charles Jencks as the Francis Bacon of British architecture, Stirling was considered to be part of the revolt against the high-tech style, and while he rejected the Postmodern label he did recognise that his work was in opposition to that of many of his peers. Humour and surprise are part of the architectural language, however like many Postmodern buildings it also riffs on its neighbours including the Bank of England, Lutyens’s nearby Midland Bank and Saint Mary Woolnoth.

Prince Charles also criticised this design, describing it as a ‘1930s wireless’, while Stirling’s partner Michael Wilford took a more philosophical approach: ‘like it or hate it is a very common response to our buildings… they confront in such a way as to force people to think.’

(Image: John East)

National Theatre

Denys Lasdun (1976) | Brutalism

Described as a ‘clever way of building a nuclear power station in the middle of London without anyone objecting’, Denys Lasdun’s National Theatre is often regarded as the most beloved Brutalist building in Britain. It houses three theatres loosely modelled on designs from the three greatest periods of Western drama: classical Greek theatres, proscenium-arch theatres of the past three centuries, and Tudor inn-yards, however when it was commissioned an Opera House was also going to be part of the complex, with all four venues located further along the Thames. The development was reduced in scope and relocated in 1967. Lasdun approached the design by envisioning the public spaces as a kind of ‘fourth theatre’ where the members of the public acted out their daily lives: ‘In the National Theatre everyone becomes an actor and all the building is a stage’.

The next door IBM Building was designed by Lasdun in the late 1970s, and although the National Theatre originally objected to it he was able to win them over, arguing they would benefit from an amplified setting. The Royal Fine Art Commission backed the scheme, commending it for maintaining the layout of a traditional quayside development. Consent was granted in 1979 and it was largely complete in 1984. Lasdun stating that it ‘respects the scale of the National Theatre and is aligned with it so that both buildings… are seen as part of a single composition.’

(Image: John East)

Royal College of Physicians

Denys Lasdun ( ) | Brutalist

The home of the Royal College of Physicians is widely considered one of London’s most important post-war buildings and it is one of only ten post-war structures in England to boast a Grade I Listing. In 1958 the RCP bought a bomb damaged site in Regent’s Park for a new headquarters and they appointed Denys Lasdun, who made it clear he would not be creating a classical building, to design it. Thanks to a generous budget the building is clad in porcelain and engineered brick, offering up pronounced contrasts of colour and texture than would have been possible in concrete, and while these aspects have not weathered – as was Lasdun’s intention – later painting of some elements has frustrated his hope the passage of time would be recoded.

Lasdun spent weeks observing the RCP’s official functions and designed accordingly, paying attention to the ceremonial and social aspects of RCP life. The result is that the college is designed in two layers; the formal rooms – entrance hall, library, dining room and so on – are housed in the grand white building, while the offices, working rooms and lecture theatres, are contained in the dark brick structure that threads in and out at ground level. Where the top half is formal in plan, the other half is informal and meanders allowing the building to be altered, extended and adapted at ground level without ever upsetting the symmetry above.

(Image: John East)

Carreras Cigarette Factory

M. E. Collins, O. H. Collins & A. G. Porri (1928) | Art Deco

Build on the site of a two-and-a-half-acre communal garden in the late 1920s in the Egyptian Revival style – a sub-category of Art Deco which developed from a wave of Egypt-mania in fashion, architecture and design in the early 1920s – the Carreras Cigarette Factory was at the time the first building in the United Kingdom to be made of pre-stressed concrete, have air conditioning and have dust extraction. In its advertising the company boasted of its ‘hygienic wonder factory’ and its ‘pure product from a clean factory’. The grand opening took place in November 1928 with the Hampstead Road covered in sand to replicate a desert, while the cast of Verdi’s Aida processed around the building. Carreras remained in this location until the 1950s when the business merged with Rothmans and it relocated to Basildon, taking one of its original black cats that graced the entrance with it. The other cat was moved to Carreras’s factory in Jamaica (the two present today are not original).

(Image: John East)

Isokon / Lawn Road Flats

Wells Coates (1933-34) | Modernist

Designed by Wells Coates the Isokon Building opened in 1934 as a progressive experiment in new ways of urban living. Coates was inspired by Le Corbusier, who believed that buildings should be ‘machines for living’, and as a result the (originally) 32 flats were designed to create the greatest possible utility and comfort out of constricted dimensions. They had simple built-in plywood furniture and early advertising stated: ‘All you have to bring with you is a rug, an armchair and a picture.’ There was a communal kitchen for the preparation of meals, connected to the residential floors via a dumb waiter (most flats had small galley kitchens) and this was later converted into the Isobar restaurant, to a design by Marcel Breuer. Other services included shoe cleaning and bed-making.

The bar became a well-known hangout for the local and émigré intelligentsia of the time including Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson and, commemorated in a blue plaque on the side, the building was home to Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus, Marcel Breuer, designer of modernist furniture and Laszlo Maholy-Nagy, head teacher of art at the Bauhaus school. It also attracted artists, architects such as James Stirling and writers including Agatha Christie, who lived there between 1941 and 1947.

(Image: Avanti Architects)

Highpoint I

Berthold Lubetkin and Tecton (1933-35) | Modernist

Highpoint I was the first of two blocks erected in the 1930s, designed by Berthold Lubetkin, on one of the highest points in London. Built for the entrepreneur Sigmund Gestetner to house staff from the business founded by his father, thanks to wider interest in the apartments there was a rush to reserve an apartment amongst wealthier house-hunters, and so it was never used for its intended purpose. It is considered one of the finest examples of early International Style architecture in London.

It was influenced by Le Corbusier and when the Swiss architect visited 1935 he said ‘This beautiful building sets a question of principle: to follow tradition or to break with it? I reply unhesitatingly by stating my personal point of view; a new tradition must be created… For a long time I have dreamed of executing dwellings in such conditions for the good of humanity. The building at Highgate is an achievement of the first rank.’ The American critic Henry Russell Hitchcock called it, ‘One of the finest, if not absolutely the finest, middle-class housing projects in the world.’ In 1970 Highpoint I and Highpoint II (the latter completed in 1938) were Grade I Listed.

In the early 1930s the concept of social housing – communal living in apartment blocks – was unusual in England. Even in an era of official concern about slum conditions in British cities, authorities had tended to respond by building low density housing on the outskirts of towns. In Europe however, high density social housing was common and it was a solution to housing problems which Modernists had championed for many years.

(Image: John East)

Centre Point

Richard Seifert and Partners (1961-66) | Brutalist

Dismissed by Ernö Goldfinger as “London’s pop-art skyscraper” Centre Point is probably architect Richard Seifert’s most famous building, built speculatively for developer Harry Hyams between 1963 and 1966. When it was completed it was the tallest building in London and also considered one of its most daring, with large areas of glass cladding at the lower levels and a unique precast, concrete-framed, fin-shaped tower soaring above.

It has had a controversial life. First there was the fact that permission was granted at all on a skyline then unsullied by tall buildings. But more than this was anger that it remained empty for more than nine years after its completion and by so doing it became a symbol of commercial greed and the alleged ruination of London’s urban townscape and public realm for private interests. The developer stated that he only wanted the building let to a single tenant but rumour has it he kept it empty as the appreciation in capital value far exceeded the rent he was losing by keeping it empty. Built at the time of a housing crisis in London it was occupied in 1974 by protesters who put up “We’re Just Wild About Harry” banners in the window, in a demonstration that inspired the naming of the local homeless shelter, now housing charity, Centrepoint. It has been Grade II listed since 1995 and in 2015 it was converted into luxury flats.

(Image: Conran and Partners)

Liberty of London

E.T. and E.S. Hall (1925-26) | Beaux Arts

Opened in 1924 and designed by Edwin Thomas Hall and his son Edwin Stanley Hall in a mock Tudor style popular in 1920s London, the Liberty store on Great Marlborough Street has a strong focus on high-quality natural materials and first-rate artisans that epitomised the ‘head, hand and heart’ design philosophy of the Arts & Crafts movement. The exterior was conceptualised to resemble a line of historic timbered shops and the interiors were crafted by Liberty’s own skilled artisans. The windows on the frontage were fitted with painted glass panes created in the style of Albrecht Dürer, while the roof of the east Central Gallery features the heraldry of Ben Jonson, Sir Thomas More, Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Francis Bacon, George Herbert and William Shakespeare. More than 24,000 cubic feet of ships’ timbers were used in its construction, with the vessels’ decks forming the store’s flooring.

Architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner was critical, saying: ‘The scale is wrong, the symmetry is wrong. The proximity to a classical façade put up by the same firm at the same time is wrong, and the goings-on of a store behind such a façade (and below those twisted Tudor chimneys) are wrongest of all’.

Standing across the road is Ideal House which, while completed in the same decade, could not look more different. This is a Grade II listed Art Deco office block with Egyptian detailing, clad in black granite. Its developer was the National Radiator Company of the US who asked its architects, Raymond Hood and Jacques André Fouilhoux, to create a scaled down version of the now-iconic American Radiator Building (now the Bryant Park Hotel) in New York in 1924. Hood is well-known for his involvement in the building of Chicago’s Tribune Tower and the Rockefeller Center and the New York Daily News buildings in Manhattan. The wide windows on the ground floor were originally designed to showcase the company’s radiators but now just allow diners at Spaghetti House a clear view of the streetscape.

(Image: John East)

Checkpoint Ride 2 – B-Sides of modern London

August 2023 – Details to follow.