Picturing London

Architects' visions: Millbank Housing Scheme

Drawing of elevation designs submitted for the Millbank Housing Scheme

Elevations submitted for the Millbank Housing Scheme, 1977
Designer: Nigel Coates
© Victoria and Albert Museum. Museum number E.675-8 - 1980

Nigel Coates pairs heavily rendered elevations with florid text to give richness and gravitas to this public housing proposal. Traditional drawing techniques heighten the hand-crafted, classical detailing of the proposed building. Coates, borrowing extensively from architectural history, adds ornamental column capitals, statuary and an amphitheatre to otherwise standard post-war flats.

Searching for detailing in the classical world is no strange act in London history. In 1977, however, this was a bold proposal, a clear rejection of dominant Modernist school of architecture. The grandiose illustration reflects Coates's intent to elevate the livelihood of low-income residents through Classicism. Though Modernist architects also aimed to improve the lives of the lower class, Coates viewed their efforts as failures because Modernism's cold and placeless aesthetic was not conducive to forming viable communities. Postmodernists challenged post-war architecture with an injection of imagination and history into civic works.

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