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Latitude: 51.5224 / 51°31'20"N
Longitude: -0.0973 / 0°5'50"W
OS Eastings: 532102
OS Northings: 182099
OS Grid: TQ321820
Mapcode National: GBR Q8.9F
Mapcode Global: VHGQT.8ZFV
Entry Name: Crescent House Including Ground Floor Shops and Shakespeare Public House
Listing Date: 4 December 1997
Source: Historic England
Source ID: 1021941
English Heritage Legacy ID: 466565
Location: City of London, London, EC1M
District: City and County of the City of London
Traditional County: Middlesex
Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): City of London
Church of England Parish: St Giles Cripplegate
Church of England Diocese: London
TQ 32 82 SW GOSWELL ROAD
Golden lane Estate
627/3/10164 Crescent House including ground
04-DEC-1997 floor shops and Shakespeare
Block of 159 flats, public house and nineteen shops. 1958-62 by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon. Reinforced concrete, exposed and bush hammered to round-arched cornice and sill band. Mosaic cladding to pilotis and storey bands. Flat roof. Four storeys, the ground floor set back behind pilotis. Three storeys of flats, each with head-high partition to form bedroom, set over shops, with public house set apart from these at southern end of block separated by steps and archway leading into rest of estate. The block is curved to the front, and presents a dramatic front to Goswell Road. The back is straight. Two rows of flats, either side of access corridor, exposed to open air on top floor. The resulting geometry cleverly leaves all flats rectangular with an open well at southern end of block. The massing of the curved and arched cornice, with the sill and pilotis below, and the stepped profile of the dark and largely glazed floors of flats in between is exceptionally impressive. Hardwood timber
windows stained dark, with pivoting centrally-hung casements and some aluminium side opening lights. INTERIOR: some apartments retain contemporary fittings and screens, otherwise not of special interest.
Shops originally with entrances to street and also to estate, where they are served by their own terrace above access road for deliveries. Shop fronts survive where noted. No.12, with timber
front and toplights, central door and tiled dado panel. Contemporary lettering. No. 14 has marble plinth and timber door. No. 26 is dated 1969, with big picture windows in timber surround to both front and back. No. 28 has timber shopfront with band at dado level. The others retain original form with toplights, fascia and plinth, but main windows mainly renewed in aluminium. Large Corporation of London plaque and sign on end wall. The public house, originally of interest also for its interior, has lost its original internal features.
Special features of Crescent House. Geoffry Powell explained how important the work of Le Corbusier was to the practice at that time. His Maisons Jaoul was particularly widely admired in Britain, but its use for the curve of Goswell Road is particularly handsome in its geometry and use of a variety of timber and concrete finishes. It is grade 11* for its place in the evolution of post war architecture and for the sophistication with which the contrasting materials and geometry of the facade are handled.
HISTORY :At the end of the Second World War the area between St Paul's and the northern boundary of the City lay devastated. It had been largely filled with late Victorian commercial and warehouse buildings, but photographs taken in 1945 show only isolated watts and mounds of rubble filling the deep basements. The County of London Plan allowed this area to retain a mixed commercial use, though in many areas it adopted the policy of dispersing industry out of central London.
Some housing provision was, however, required for the small population connected with the City. The City Corporation provided most of its accommodation well outside its area, such as in the Old Kent Road and on Sydenham Hill, but it was agreed that it should purchase a small area of land adjacent to its boundary in Finsbury. This became the Golden lane Estate. 4.7 acres were acquired by compulsory purchase in February 1951, and in May 1954 the site was extended to the Goswell Road, making a total of almost seven acres in all. In 1951 an open competition was held, assessed by Donald McMorran in February 1952. It was the first important housing competition since that for Churchill Gardens in 1945 and attracted 178 entries, nearly half as many again as in 1945. Among the entries were two prepared by three lecturers in architecture at the Kingston School of Art, who had agreed to form a partnership if either scheme won. That submitted by Geoffry Powell was declared the winner on 26 February 1952, and thus was formed the partnership of Chamberlain, Powell and Bon.
The anticipated need was not for large family units, but for a large number of flats for single people and couples such as caretakers, nurses and policemen who had to live near their work. In practice the estate was popular from the first with professionals such as doctors, journalists, clergymen and married students. Paying the rent by cheque, as sometimes occurred here, was deemed sufficiently novel to merit a special feature in the architectural press.
The brief was to supply 940 one, two, three or four room flats at the maximum possible density of 200 person to the acre. As completed, the estate contained 1400 flats and maisonettes, a swimming pool and badminton court, a bowling green (now tennis courts), a nursery and playground, a community centre and club room, and a line of shops facing Goswell Road terminating in a pub, the Shakespeare. Powell's competition entry was subsequently greatly amended and made less symmetrical, but its principles remained the same. The brief demanded that each block have a basement for storage underneath it, and this Powell developed by exploiting the deep basements left by the commercial buildings previously on the site to produce a series of varied levels. By erasing the pre-war road pattern and by making the development inward-facing around a series of courtyards he made a virtue of the original lack of a street frontage to Goswell Road.
The layout changed considerably after 1952. In part this was due to the original site being extended, in 1955, in part to an increasing flexibility regarding the height of the blocks which allowed Great Arthur House to be built higher than originally proposed. By placing many of the smaller flats in a sixteen-storey tower Powell was able to achieve the required 200 persons per acre density and yet build a large number of maisonettes and have some open courtyards. The tower was from the first seen as the key element in the design, both by Powell himself and by Arthur Kenyon, writing in The Builder for 7 March 1952. These principles were to be repeated at the Barbican. They meant, too, that Great Arthur House was briefly the tallest block of flats in Britain.
Other post-war housing schemes had attempted relatively little that was new in planning terms: either they had provided for high densities in uniform blocks of medium height, as at Churchill Gardens, or they were low density small-scale developments still in the idiom of the Garden City movement, as at Lansbury. In 1957 the architects claimed, 'There is no attempt at the informal in these courts. We regard the whole scheme as urban. We have no desire to make the project look like a garden suburb' (quoted in the Architectural Association Journal, April 1957). At Golden lane the spaces and the relationship between the buildings were as important as the buildings themselves. 'Special attention is paid to the floor treatment with varying textures, colours and patterns and with the floor pattern of the piazza being designed as a picture on the ground (Architectural Design, July 1953). Golden lane straddles a boundary between the picturesque and the formal. One curious feature in the hard landscaping is the round bastion at the northern end of the site's central axis, an original part of the design. The urban quality and hard but richly patterned quality of the spaces are key features of the site, for by covering the entire space with architecture Chamberlain, Powell and Bon anticipated what they were to do later at the Barbican. The result has worn exceptionally well. In 1964 lan Nairn considered the estate to have 'a powerful sense of place.' (Modern Buildings in London, 1964). The only significant alterations have been made to the pub under Crescent House, whose interior is now a Victorian pastiche Nairn as 'modern, but without the decorative affectations that plague pub designers'.
Writing on Golden Lane is dominated by discussion of an unplaced scheme by Alison and Peter Smithson, which was later widely published. That work and the unplaced scheme by Jack Lynn and Gordon Ryder, the former later to design the Park Hill flats in Sheffield, were to be the first demonstration of very long decks of medium-rise housing in Britain. The formality, three-dimensional planning and spatial complexity of Chamberlain, Powell and Bon's formal grid was a more personal response to the need to build high urban densities, that reflected contemporary antipathy to suburban developments such as the New Towns just as had the work of the Smithsons and Lynn, but CPB created a total environment in which every inch of space had a purpose. Golden Lane is a complex mixture of the new formality emerging in British architecture in the early 1950s with a picturesque attention to landscape in which the spaces were almost as important as the buildings themselves; this was the secret of Chamberlain, Powell and Bon's success in creating a sense of place.
Stylistically the early blocks, completed in 1957, stand out from the later work by their use of coloured opaque glass cladding. Colour is a notable feature of all Chamberlain, Powell and Bon's three most important early works, their Witham seed warehouse, Bousfield Road School, and Golden lane. The central block, Great Arthur House, is bright yellow whilst the lower blocks of flats and maisonettes are red and blue, with their construction of load-bearing brick crosswalls clearly expressed. Great Arthur House is given added presence by a curved oversailing roof feature containing the water tanks, described by lan Nairn as 'rather like a concrete aeroplane'. The roof was also provided with a pergola and water garden for the benefit of inhabitants of the upper floors.
However, it is the later blocks, and principally that following the curve of Goswell Road, that are the key to the same architects' later developments at the adjacent Barbican site. The Goswell Road block was completed in 1962, and features a rear facade of hammered concrete forming a profile of segmental curves. It is transitional between the simple curtain wall blocks of the 1950s and the harder, more structural treatment developed at the Barbican during the early
1960s. This block, Crescent House, set a new pattern for high-density housing at a modest height that in many ways resembles that of Lillington Gardens, Westminster.
Comparison with big, tough Barbican next door is instructive. It becomes clear that many of the ideas of that well-known estate are present at Golden lane, in particular at Crescent House. Here is the separation of transport and pedestrians, the differentiation of public spaces and private residential areas, the mix of different pedestrian levels, and the high proportion of recreational facilities. Golden lane is a unique environment, a self-sufficient 'urban village' in which every element of space is accounted for and every detail carefully considered. It has good claim to be the most successful of England's housing developments from the earl 1950s.
Architectural Association Journal, April, 957
Architectural Design, July, 1953
Modern Buildings in London (lan Nairn), 1964
Listing NGR: TQ3208482136
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