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Name   the Highpoint apartments
     
Architects   LUBETKIN AND TECTON
     
Date   1935-1938
     
Address   North Hill, Highgate, London, UK, N6 4BA
     
School   INTERNATIONAL STYLE
     
Floor Plan    
     
Description  

From the Penguin Pool onwards, the contribution of the Tecton partnership was a major part of the total momentum of the modern movement in England.

Down to the Hallfield development in Paddington, every building was a battle won, and they remain as numinous as the monuments of heroes - none more so than the Highpoint complex in Highgate, With Highpoint I, British modern architecture became man-size and internationally visible, and Le Corbusier set the seal of his approval on it by dubbing it the first ‘vertical garden city’. By the standards of modern architecture it was an unconventional block, a double cross in plan, and its windows were far from gigantic or wall-size, but on the ends of the arms of the cross they were graced by little balconies whose scrolled fronts scream ‘thirties’ even while they pass muster, still, as a convincing solution to the problem of finishing off a particular kind of facade. Where the block is most convincingly modern-movement, however, is in the bold and plastic treatment of the entrance hall that runs most of the depth of the ground floor, and demands comparison with the first stirrings of modern (equally Corb-inspired) architecture in Brazil. The Corbusian inspiration need cause no surprise: his ideas went everywhere through the agency of intelligent men, like Lubetkin, in revolt against their academic training. His professionalism and bred-in-the-bone classicism, his rationalism and his rhetoric caught them where they lived and their own work took fire from it.  In the entrance hall of Highpoint I the British saw for the first time that modern  architecture could be a full-blooded visual art, as well as a conscience and a social programme.

All this was too much for the slow-witted citizens of Highgate, and when the Highpoint organisation wanted to develop the site next door (to prevent its misdevelopment by someone else) they found that the powers of aesthetic control that had lately been vested in local authorities as a defence against bad architecture could be used to prevent any kind of architecture at all. There ensued a comedy of desperate manoeuvres worthy of Ben Jonson, in which the local ‘planners’ were patiently flannelled into accepting, one by one, all the features of the new building, under the impression that quite different matters were under dispute. The outcome was not, perhaps, the best conceivable building for the site, but it is a worthy consort for Highpoint I, and its double-height living rooms were the right sort of next step forward.

But Highpoint II also has a front porch that has taxed the patience of the friends of modern architecture almost as much as Highpoint I taxed the minds of the Highgate villagers. The form, structure, applied lettering and practically everything else about that porch are as resolutely modern as anyone could have wished in the thirties, but where there ought to be slender steel columns to hold it up, there are of all things - casts of one of the Erechtheum caryatids, from the British Museum. It was (and is) completely indefensible, but it clearly comes from the same classics-based professionalism as gave us the rest of the scheme, and the forensic brilliance as they used to make rings round the villagers’ aesthetic objections to Highpoint I. Now that the increasing sophistication of us all has made Lubetkin's classicism more obvious and his modernism less so, this Hellenic pin-up seems less of an affront to progress than it once did: no more than a classicist’s sign-manual ... until you think of the fantastic self-confidence needed to do it at a time when your strongest supporters had only just cured themselves of regarding Greece as the be all and end all of artistic excellence…

 

Banham R. Age of the Masters: A Personal View of Modern Architecture. Harper & Row., 1975. P. 138-139.
     
     
     
     
     
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