Building a home
‘Goodness, love, art; they are in our heart and in us, and they will not be satisfied by little shows of propaganda’
- Letter from Ernö Goldfinger, 1931
Architects had fewer opportunities to design their own houses in the 1930s than after the war, and these were mostly in the countryside. For modern architects like Goldfinger, building flats was a more socially conscientious exercise than building an individual house.
Yet Goldfinger’s plans for a block of flats with studios were initially rejected by the London County Council in 1936. He then had to reconcile the demands of construction, space, and social life with the guidelines from the authorities, whilst retaining its concrete frame. The final design was then submitted at the end of 1937, but the situation was far from resolved.
A letter of protest to a local newspaper started a controversy that reached the national press. It was from an influential figure: Henry Brooke, or ‘Lord Brooke of Cumnor’, Secretary of the Heath and Old Hampstead Protection Society, and later MP for Hampstead.
Brooke mistakenly believed that Goldfinger proposed ‘a “modern” angular house in reinforced concrete’ which would be ‘disastrously out of keeping’ with the character of the neighbourhood’. Goldfinger was supported by other local residents such as Roland Penrose and Flora Robson in staunchly defending the construction, stating:
‘They are designed in a modern adaptation of the eighteenth-century style, and are far more in keeping with the beautiful Downshire Hill houses round the corner than their neighbours in Willow Road…. As for the objection that the houses are rectangular, only the Eskimos and the Zulus build anything but rectangular houses.’
Taking design forward
Goldfinger explained that very little concrete would be exposed to view, and that it would conform to the surroundings and tradition of Georgian building in London. The houses were completed in the summer of 1939, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Ironically, when 2 Willow Road was eventually handed over to us in 1993, it was by Peter Brooke, the then Heritage Secretary and the son of Lord Brooke, the property’s most vocal opponent.