Keeling House, a 16-storey block of flats in Bethnal Green, London, was British architect Denys Lasdun's attempt to break away from certain ideas of mass housing derived from Le Corbusier and to keep other elements that were relevant to British living condition.
Lasdun was weary of a box-like approach to housing and interested in evolving new configurations better suited to pre-existing social and urban patterns.
The result was a scheme of flats clustered in such a way so that each dwelling had views and access to light and air, just like the Unité d’Habitation, but accommodating the social nature and community spirit found in Bethnal Green. It was idealistic and designed for ordinary local people.
Model of Keeling House.
© Lasdun Archive / RIBA Library Drawings Collection
By 1993 the occupants were moved out by the local council due to safety fears – Keeling House was in such a state of disrepair that there were threats that it would have to be demolished. Despite this, that same year it became the first post-war tower block to be given listed status, with the then Secretary of State for National Heritage saying Lasdun’s building was an ‘architecturally outstanding example of 1950s public housing’. (Architects’ Journal, 1993)
Lasdun's original model of Keeling House is part of the collections of the RIBA. Made of balsa wood, the appearance of the model is a contrast to the much harder veneers of white Portland stone aggregate used in the actual project which was completed in 1957. It shows the main form of Lasdun’s design: four towers clustered around a central core containing circulation and social spaces. It’s a reminder of what British architects achieved after World War II: rebuilding Britain and playing a part in making good housing available to all.
The Brutalist Playground is a new commission by Assemble and artist Simon Terrill exploring post-war design for play.
The exhibition is open at the RIBA from 10 June to 16 August 2015.
Entry is free.
References (available in the British Architectural Library, RIBA)
- Curtis, W. J. R., Denys Lasdun: architecture, city, landscape. London: Phaidon, 1994
- Architects’ Journal, 1993, Dec 1. Lasdun’s high-rise housing listed . 198(21), p. 7