Brixton’s Barrier Block: ‘When it went up everybody hated it’ | London

Greater than 50 years after it was designed, Southwyck Home nonetheless looms over Brixton in south London, drawing fascination and dislike in equal measure.

Initially council housing, the large concrete construction with tiny home windows has been likened to a jail and is thought regionally because the “Barrier Block”. There was hypothesis when it was constructed within the early Seventies the folks provided housing there didn’t wish to transfer in due to its harsh facade. One other persistent hearsay is that the architect behind it hated the general public criticism of her work a lot that she killed herself.

However sitting in her home in Lambeth, having simply obtained her Covid booster vaccination, the constructing’s architect, Magda Borowiecka, could be very a lot alive and effectively. When the block is talked about she lets out fun at “that dreadful barrier”.

One of many truths in regards to the design of Southwyck Home typically misplaced within the telling of its historical past is that its distinctive design was useful on the time. Borowiecka was advised she wanted to create a constructing that might sit subsequent to a raised flyover, a plan that was ultimately deserted.

“In the beginning everybody hated [Southwyck House] however it was maddening for me as a result of I knew why I designed it that approach,” mentioned Borowiecka, 90.

The constructing was commissioned by Lambeth council to deal with 2,500 folks. The plans had been accredited by a planning committee that included the longer term prime minister John Main.

“The motorway would have been 60ft up within the air, so I wanted to create a clean wall going up greater than that. It was moderately depressing and I had to consider some option to make an attention-grabbing constructing,” Borowiecka mentioned, including that this was why it has such small home windows.

Magda Borowiecka: ‘My most important downside is it grew to become kind of well-known and I nonetheless don’t prefer it.’ {Photograph}: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

“Once we had been going out to tender they determined to not do the motorway, and John Main, who was my boss in Lambeth, determined to go on with it as a result of a lot effort and cash had gone into the design. When it went up everybody hated it.”

She mentioned she was “very upset” about this. “Individuals used it as a purpose to not have council architects. Main himself wrote in papers about it being horrible regardless that he commissioned it.”

The Guardian ran an article on the time asking: “What sort of insensitive megalomaniac might have dreamed up such a scheme, even now we would have realized the teachings of such huge estates, desolate, impersonal and crime-prone?”

Borowiecka mentioned she was extra concerned with low-rise buildings and is way prouder of labor she has finished elsewhere, akin to housing in Dunbar Road, West Norwood. When requested if she needed to see the Barrier Block eliminated, she mentioned it was “not doing the job it was presupposed to be doing for the time being”.

“My most important downside is it grew to become kind of well-known and I nonetheless don’t prefer it,” she mentioned. “What I’d have appreciated to have finished is have an important large poster on the Barrier Block saying that is constructed this fashion due to a motorway.”

Brutalist structure has made a comeback in latest instances and gained a following. Borowiecka’s constructing has appeared in publications about this type of design, and it has appeared in artworks and impressed designs on T-shirts.

Borowiecka seems again with fondness at her time working for Lambeth and is regretful that there is no such thing as a longer as a lot council housing and constructing. “As an architect I get pleasure from fixing issues, and with Southwyck Home that motorway was a colossal downside,” she mentioned. “I’m unhappy that housing in London has now turn out to be so unaffordable,” she added.

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