The inaugural London Modern celebration of the capital’s modernist architecture, design and wider influence took place on 10 December at the Grade II listed and famously London modernist Waltham Forest Town Hall, providing insights into what enthusiasts sometimes maintain is an under appreciated 20th Century movement that permeated many fields and also highlighting a dimension of the capital’s ever-present and fast-evolving 21st Century tensions between conservationism and, well, modernisation.
Croydonian John Grindrod, author of Concretopia and Outskirts, welcomed an audience of around 100 people and introduced architect and scholar Charles Holland who, in conversation, with Helen Barrett of the Financial Times, one of London Modern’s founders, talked through London’s different modernisms, including the Walthamstow manifestation where they sat.
Holland described it – built between 1939 and 1942 and originally called Walthamstow Town Hall – as “essentially a classically composed building” in some ways, yet one which also reflected a coming to terms with the influence of modernism as part of an expression of “the expansion of London and a whole emerging set of 20th Century values” in a functional municipal construction.
There was a presentation by the 20th Century Society about how to campaign to stop buildings being knock down, with local cases studies including the Cressingham Gardens estate next to Brockwell Park, the Crystal Palace Bowl and South Norwood’s brutalist library. Historian Neal Shasore, chief executive of the London School of Architecture, spoke about architectural culture in interwar London and Hawkins/Brown took attendees on a tour of the venue.
Later, designer Paula Benson, founder and editor of Film and Furniture, entertained with insights into certain Stanley Kubrick movie scenes, Jude Rogers spoke about TS Eliot’s London and The Waste Land, researchers gathering the experiences of residents of the Trellick Tower and Cheltenham estate described their project (pictured) and Travis Elborough closed the show with a “wild ride” pop culture tour.
The day was “fine and mighty enjoyable” in the view of historian Karen Averby, “fabulous” for self-described “London-addict” Leigh Stanford, “hugely entertaining and interesting” for filmmaker Dan Mudford, and a “really great” debut for London Society trustee (among other things) Rob Fiehn.
Helen Barrett’s fellow London Modern founders are Chris Romer-Lee, Malcolm Garrett, Patricia Brown, who is a great friend of On London, and one of On London‘s most prolific contributors Richard Brown, who says he hopes there will be further London Modern events. Sounds like a good thing.
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