The gorgeous Isokon Building is one of London’s greatest examples of modernist architecture. If you time your visit right, you can even take a peek at the penthouse flat.
London Thing 644 of 1000: Go Art Deco at the Isokon Building.
You know those buildings that make your heart race and your knees go weak? No? Then this blog post is not for you.
Now that I’ve lost all the non-dorks, let’s get down to business.
What am I getting myself into?
An ambitious social experiment in minimalist urban living.
The Isokon Building, a Grade I-listed apartment block, is a modernist stunner incongruously set on a leafy street of Victorian terraced houses in Hampstead. It was the first time that reinforced concrete was used in a domestic building construction in the UK, and its communal balconies (another first) promoted the idea of social living and also made the thing look like a dry-docked luxury cruise liner.
Opened in 1934, Isokon was marketed toward young professionals who wanted to get to know their neighbours and not be bogged down with ‘tiresome domestic troubles’ (sign me up). Rent included someone to make your bed, a laundry service, shoe shining and hot meals. The very design of the building encouraged (or maybe even required) social interaction outside of the flat – just look at how frighteningly small the kitchens are.
The ground-floor kitchen wasn’t the hit it was expected to be, and it was closed and replaced with a cafe and boozer called the Isobar. For a time, the Isobar was the intellectual hub of north London, as it became the haunt of the Isokon’s famous residents like Walter Gropius (who founded the Bauhaus school of design) and author Agatha Christie.
Molly and Jack Pritchard, who commissioned the Isokon Building, took over the penthouse flat, and if you visit during Open House London, you’re in for an extra treat of getting access to the unsurprisingly stunning flat and its rooftop terrace.
The penthouse is decked out in wood-panelled walls and chequerboard wooden floors that make you feel like you’re on a 1920s luxury cruise liner. The current owner has decorated it with pieces from Isokon, the plywood furniture company that Pritchard founded.
The rooftop terrace is even bigger than the penthouse flat itself. London definitely needs more like this.
Magnus Englund, the current owner of the penthouse flat, champions the history of the building so much that he started the Isokon Gallery in the apartment block’s former garage. The gallery displays some of Isokon’s furniture, like the wonderfully iconic Penguin Donkey and also traces the history of the building and its characters-in-residence.
Although it’s small, the Isokon Gallery is worth a visit in its own right if you can’t make it during Open House London weekend, and it’s free to enter.
Anything nearby to do when I’m done?
You’re here during Open House London, right? Best hurry on to the next venue.
If not, fill your heart with more modernist joy by walking 15 minutes to the Ernő Goldfinger-designed house at 2 Willow Road. Swoon.
See: Isokon Gallery, Lawn Rd, London, NW3 2XD. Tube Belsize Park.
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