Pullman Court is a Grade II* listed building in Streatham, London, designed by Frederick Gibberd. Built during 1933-36 it was commissioned when Gibberd was only 23 and consists of 218 flats laid out in three blocks. The flats were intended to cater to a young, style-conscious middle-class market; people who were tired of living in ‘digs’ and instead seeking the convenience of a low-maintenance and fashionable home. Gibberd’s work is a classic of the International style and certainly one of our favourite buildings in Britain.
An original plan for a vast number of small single-occupancy flats (no doubt in part inspired by Wells Coates’ ‘minimum flat’ at the Isokon Flats) was later modified to include larger units, in part to address local fears of the ‘immoral behaviour’ such a large number of single people gathered together in one place was expected to inspire. The completed building therefore provided a range of accommodation including studios (at 21sq m even smaller than Coates’ minumum flat), one bedroom units and a smaller number of two bedroom units.
Naturally, the flats featured all the latest conveniences, including central heating fed from a communal boiler, refrigerators, electric lighting (designed by Gibberd and manufactured by Best & Lloyd) and built-in furniture*. Optional extras included the built-in radio cabinet which can be seen in the wonderful flat of Eve Tyler who lives in the twin-cruciform block to the rear. In some instances Gibberd provided sliding wood panels between bedroom and living room to maximise space and allow a greater level of flexibility. In addition to the features provided in their flats residents could also make use of communal facilities including roof terraces for sun-bathing, a swimming pool (now covered over), a restaurant and a social room.
The basic structure of Pullman Court is an example of what quickly became the standard British Modernist method – a reinforced concrete frame wrapped with exterior walls of 4″ poured concrete and 1″ cork insulation panels applied to interior surfaces. The same method can be seen in major works by Connell, Ward and Lucas and Wells Coates. Such a thin skin allowed architects to express the non-load bearing nature of the walls and maximise space, but in most cases was immediately found to be cold and encourage condensation. As the exterior surface of the walls were to be painted Gibberd neatly anticipated the requirement for regular cleaning and repainting as a result of the British climate, and accounted for this in his design. The steel rails installed around the roof line for suspending work platforms are still in use today.
Again, in common with the best examples of British modernism, the exterior surfaces were not of a uniform white but instead featured a broad palette of pale colours, including pinks, browns, blues and greys. These colours have been reinstated in recent renovations where possible, and therefore Pullman Court now looks much closer to its original appearance than it has for decades.
Following the success of Pullman Court Gibberd went on to become something of specialist in flats for a brief period in the late 30s. His other London blocks include the brick-skinned Ellington Court at Southgate (sadly now compromised by developers) and Park Court in Sydenham.
In researching this article we came across a fabulous site commemorating Jack Daniels (the musician) who lived in Pullman Court during the 1930s. The following photographs are taken from the site and show a very dapper Jack, a man who no doubt felt at home in such a stylish environment.
*Gibberd later published a bi-lingual book on built-in furniture (1948, Alec Tiranti, London).
© 2017 Modernist Tourists
Telford Avenue Mansions
In the area surrounding Pullman Court one can find several examples of more conservative 1930’s flats in a range of styles including Neo-Georgian, Mock-Tudor and Moderne. The flats at Telford Avenue Mansions are perhaps the most interesting of these thanks to their fine brickwork and bold massing.
© 2017 Modernist Tourists