Just 5 Of Frederick Gibberd's Architectural Masterpieces

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 16 months ago
Just 5 Of Frederick Gibberd's Architectural Masterpieces

From his pioneering masterplan for Harlow New Town, to the space aged Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, Frederick Gibberd changed the architectural face of Britain with his dashing yet sensitive designs. Here's how he made his mark on London.

1. Pullman Court, Streatham (1936)

a. new routemaster drives past the sleek frontage of pullman court
Pullman Court set out Gibberd's stall as a visionary architect who never negelcted the client. Image: Lydia Manch.

Pullman Court wouldn't look out of place on Miami Beach, and yet here it is overlooking Streatham High Road, and making the area all the more glam for it. Gibberd was just 28 — still wet behind the architectural ears — when Pullman Court was completed, and this collection of 218 ocean liner-inspired modernist apartments really sets out his stall as a man unafraid to make dashing architectural statements, so long as they still served the community they were intended for. In this case, light-flooded living spaces come with their own distinct character (bespoke furniture, even a wireless set originally), built-in flexibility (sliding walls), and are complemented by community boons like the central garden, and swimming pool (the latter sadly no longer with us). Gibberd even made a point of protecting mature trees in the interest of residents — something many of today's developers could do with reminding of.

You can admire the building from outside anytime you like, or look out for one of its occasional open days. Frankly, we could go on all day about Pullman Court: read more in this article.

2. Chrisp Street Market, Poplar (1951)

Image: George Rex in Creative Commons.

The Festival of Britain wasn't all about the South Bank; Gibberd's Chrisp Street Market in Poplar was part of the festival's 'live architecture' program, and was flaunted as the first purpose-built pedestrian shopping area in the country. The vision took the vibrancy of marketplaces up and down the country, and modernised this by flanking the stalls with with housing, laundrettes and a library. The blueprint was subsequently copied throughout Britain. 70 years later, a little worn, Chrisp Street is still one of London's more interesting local markets, bristling with stalls pedalling clothes, fruit and curry.

Chrisp Street Market in 2015. Image: Londonist.

Presiding over the whole scene is Gibberd's clock tower (now Grade II* listed), featuring Speedo-style numberless clock faces, and scored with diamonds up its side. It doubled up as a viewing platform, where locals could ascend the reculincular double-helix spiral staircases for views over their city. (This is only possible now on occasional open days.) While the South Bank's Skylon was soon scrapped and repurposed into wrist watches, the clock tower still stands (and tells the right time).

Regeneration plans for Chrisp Street Market are afoot — and not all locals are over the moon about it — although Gibberd's 'Festival Style' buildings and the clocktower aren't going anywhere, thank goodness.

3. Terminal Buildings, Heathrow Airport (1955–1969)

vintage british airways planes lined up on the tarmac
Image: Andy Kennaugh in Creative Commons.

Heathrow's early commercial terminals were little more than tents with floral armchairs. Passengers even had to get to the plane by walking across duckboards, so their shoes didn't get muddy. All very quaint, but something had to give. Enter Frederick Gibberd, with the Europa Terminal (1956) followed by Terminal 1 (1969). Between them, with their generously-glazed windows (great for ogling take-offs and landings), easy interchange and nifty touches like the underground St George's Chapel, they made catching a flight a whole experience (and we mean that in a good way). Celebs from Marilyn Monroe to Sinatra to Princess Grace of Monaco entered London via these buildings, as a new, glamorous era of mainstream travel emerged.

Gibberd also designed Heathrow's handsome redbrick control tower:

Sadly, all of Gibberd's Heathrow buildings have been demolished and replaced. Hats off to anyone who bagged an old piece of signage in the 2018 auction.

4. Fulwell Cross Library, Ilford (1968)

Image: Steve Cadman in Creative Commons.

Gibberd had a penchant for designs that look like they've either just landed on this planet, or are about to launch off from it (see also: Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral). Fulwell Cross Library could be a cousin of Southgate tube station; a flying saucer of a thing, which you half expect to start rotating (alas, it doesn't). Gibberd was a master at being playful with the practical; as is called for with a library, plenty of light is ushered in, but it's done Gibberd's way, with slit windows oscillating round the belly of the building, and a deliciously scalloped copper lid studded with crescent-shaped glass. Rather delightfully you can buy a make-your-own cardboard model of the library.

Image: M@/Londonist

The architect also designed the neighbouring leisure centre, and there are definitely similarities in style. Next time someone badmouths Ilford, inform them it's the only place you can read and swim in a Gibberd.

5. London Central Mosque, Regent's Park (1977)

London Central Mosque looking rather stunning, although not everyone warmed to it. © Historic England Archive, John Laing Photographic Collection.

"Everybody likes it, except other architects," said Frederick Gibberd of the London Central Mosque. Gibberd won an international competition with his design for this Regent's Park icon, featuring a prayer hall with a capacity for 5,000 worshippers — and characterised by a gold dome, that glistens above the treetops.

Not everyone warmed to it; when the mosque opened in 1977, The Architectural Review slammed it as having 'no internal logic which ties the decor to the structure behind it', and 'a frivolous building'.

The competition had entries from both Muslim and non-Muslim architects, and perhaps they should have gone with something by the former. The prize could have gone to Rifat Chadirji, the father of modern Iraqi architecture, who was praised for his 'synthesis of modernist principles and elements of Islamic architecture. He'd produced a symbolic, and rather futuristic, octagonal design. That'd certainly have set tongues wagging.

Nonetheless, London Central Mosque is sublime enough to stop you in your tracks as you're walking through the park, and it's still very much fit for purpose, used for worship and study by thousands of Muslims each day. It's yet another example of Gibberd's knack for creating something equal parts striking and practical.

Last Updated 20 December 2022

Continued below.