In Pictures: The Brutalist Buildings Of Outer London

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 14 months ago
In Pictures: The Brutalist Buildings Of Outer London
Barking station booking hall. Designed by J Ward of British Railway’s Eastern Region Architects' Department under H H Powell. Built 1959–61, listed grade II. Image: Simon Phipps

We're all au fait by now with the Sticklebrick towers of Barbican, and the National Theatre iridescently flashing the entire West End, as it relentlessly trolls the classicists.

In his book Brutal Outer London, Simon Phipps goes in search of outer London's modernist riches — those less-chartered builds, from uncelebrated Harrow hospitals to bricky spiral staircases on housing estates, which, at second glance, could rival those at St Pancras Renaissance or Fortnum & Mason (well, in the eye of the right beholder, anyway).

A tall, brutalist high rise
Designed by R Rigg of Greater London Council Department of Architecture and Civic Design. Built 1966–71, unlisted. Image: Simon Phipps

Avid urbanists will conclude that not all these buildings are brutalist per se (though — as with craft beer — we wouldn't dare volunteer an exact definition). But Phipps has set out to capture — in fittingly dramatic black and white — the concrete subtopias that sprouted on the hinterlands and cusps of London, during the post-war building boom.

Brunel University Lecture Theatre, and University Library, Uxbridge UB8 3PH. Designed by Richard Sheppard, Robson & Partners Built 1965–66 & 1973. Image: Simon Phipps

1965 saw the creation of the 32 London boroughs we know today which, at the time, says Phipps, had unparalleled autonomy, sparking the ambition and optimism to build the likes of Barking's Gascoigne estate, and the (perhaps ill-fated) 'town of tomorrow' in Thamesmead. All the more reason to pay tribute to these 50+year-old estates, as many now face demolition/sterilisation.

Strawberry Vale Estate, East Finchley N2 9RE. Designed by Bickerdike Allen Bramble Built 1978–79, unlisted. Image: Simon Phipps

In freezing Northwick Park Hospital in a moment of colourless calm, all of a sudden there's the chance to admire its helter-skelter stairwell (to be fair you wouldn't be doing that if being rushed in for an appendicectomy). Is it just us, or are there flashes of the vaunted art deco Isokon here?

The Mall, BR1 1TS Designed by Owen Luder Partnership. Built 1967–69, unlisted

As Phipps tells us: "What makes these buildings even finer is that nothing has been done to the surfaces since they were constructed — no paint, no cladding, no telecoms masts, no extraneous ducting and cabling — so they have been allowed to develop the patina of weathering, staining, and other accretions that the vicissitudes of time bring, and they look all the better for it."

Croydon Magistrates' Court, CR9 3NG Designed by D H Beaty-Pownall of Robert Atkinson & Partners. Built 1968–69, unlisted

Something conspicuously absent from all the images are people: the utilitarian forms of post-modernism sometimes get a bad rap for being 'inhumane', but oversized windows, sweeping terraces and class touches like the angular oriel windows of Croydon Magistrates' Court tell a different story.

Northwick Park Hospital, Harrow HA1 3UJ Designed by J Weeks of Llewelyn-Davies, Weeks, Forestier-Walker and Bor. Built 1966–70, unlisted

Phipps himself admits: "I don't like every one of the buildings I have photographed for this book, but within all of them is something admirable and particular about their aesthetics and character, something to say about the ambitions of post-war architecture."

The National Archives, Bessant Drive, TW9 4DU Designed by J Cecil Clavering for Property Services Agency. Built 1973–77, unlisted

Brutal Outer London by Simon Phipps, RRP £19.99

Last Updated 23 August 2022

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