Great Arthur House
Architect: Chamberlin, Powell and Bon
Words and photos by Herbert Wright
In 1952, architects Peter 'Joe' Chamberlin, Geoffry Powell and Christoph Bon entered a competition to design high-density housing on a bombsite, and made a pact that if any of them won, they'd form a partnership to build it. Powell won it, and the three formed Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, subsequently to become one of the most important modernist architectural firms in post-war England.
Their original plan for the Golden Lane Estate in the City of London involved bulky medium-rise blocks, but these were considered too oppressive.
The site was expanded and it was decided to have fewer but taller blocks. The final design was for an estate of 557 flats and maisonettes, centred around a 16-storey block containing 120 two-room flats, each with a projecting balcony, called Great Arthur House, which would have 'hobby rooms' and a laundry on the ground floor.
Completed in 1957, Great Arthur House was London's first housing to reach over 50m, making it, effectively, London's first tower block skyscraper.
Standing at 51m and with 17 storeys , Great Arthur House has pick-hammered concrete end-walls and mustard-yellow spandrels beneath the windows radiating a bright, summery feel. The crowning glory is a distinctive concrete wave structure on the roof, which juts westward like a jauntily upturned cap brim. Behind the overhang, it arches up above the boiler, water tanks and lift machinery, and around that is a roof terrace for the tenants, which was furnished with a decorative pool, seats and plant boxes. This is exactly what Le Corbusier intended for his flat roofs, and is directly inspired by his Unité d'Habitation in Marseilles.
Golden Lane became Chamberlain Powell & Bon's practice run before tackling the huge Barbican Estate next door to it. The estate is proof that le Corbusian ideals in post-war social housing can work, although today, Great Arthur House is hot on the private flat market with one-bed flats going on the market for as much as £300,000.