Brunswick Life

High Praise for the Brunswick from A N Wilson

In his review in the TLS of Todd Longstaffe-Gowan’s new book The London Square, just published by Yale, A N Wilson takes the author to task for not mentioning the Brunswick, which he praises as being close to an ideal square:

“Leslie Martin and Patrick Hodgkinson designed the Brunswick Centre, or as it is now called “the Brunswick”, on the site of the run-down Georgian houses adjoining the old Brunswick Square. “The Brunswick” got off to a rocky start, with a withdrawal of funds, and it was never completed. In the 1980s it seemed like a woebegone bit of outdated brutalism, but in recent times, it has undergone a rebirth. Martin and Hodgkinson drew some of their inspiration from the uninspiring Dolphin Square. Determined not to build higher than five storeys, and not to soar over the remaining eighteenth-century and Victorian squares and terraces of the neighbourhood, they created a living space for several thousand people. It contains sixteen different housing types “from luxury and professional on to hostels for young medics and nurses working close by, which would have been a good mix for a central London village”. Bruno Schlaffenberg, an inspired planning officer for London County Council, believed “people should be able to live close to their places of work, and disapproved of wholly residential communities such as Hampstead Garden Suburb, the model estate built in 1906 without shops or places of employment”. The Brunswick is that very rare thing in Britain today, an urban success story. Its ziggurat shapes, its greenhouse roofs, its surprising views and its intelligent layout all remind Bridget Cherry, the reviser of Pevsner’s London, of Sant’ Elia the Italian Futurist, and by the end of a rapturous paragraph on the scheme she even manages to get in a mention of Piranesi, which I shall meditate on the next time I park in the underground car park there. The Brunswick, with its cafés, shops, cashpoints, pharmacist, and well-proportioned flats, its central piazza, its art house cinema and its classy supermarket, is very close to being my idea of paradise on earth.

It deserved a mention (which it did not get) in Longstaffe-Gowan’s survey, not least because Schlaffenberg at planning, and Martin and Hodgkinson (but chiefly Hodgkinson who was sole architect after 1963) managed to achieve what so many of the post-war architects failed to do: namely, the sort of living space which would be provided by the ideal square. It combines the qualities of Inigo Jones’s sunny piazzas and the domestic intimacy of Canonbury or of the Lloyd Baker Estate.”

Nice to hear such warm praise for the Brunswick!

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