Another fine example of ‘modest modernism’ – lesser known architecture which though not famous on an international (or even national) scale continues to typify the benefits of modernist design, and quietly fulfill the needs they were originally intended to meet. The charming municipal buildings at Bowes Road, comprising a library, swimming pool, health centre and caretaker’s flat, are the work of Middlesex County architects Curtis and Burchett and are located in Arnos Grove, North London. They are redolent of an optimistic pre-war period of London suburban development but now rather forlorn. It is a short walk from Arnos Grove underground station to find them.
W.T. Curtis (Chief Architect for Middlesex County) and his assistant Howard Burchett designed a wide range of civic buildings in the 1930’s and early 40’s; these included schools, hospitals, libaries and health centres. Working on a limited budget they were able to exploit elements of modernist design (steel frame construction, concrete slab floors, flat roofs, steel windows) to produce elegant and simple designs which cost far less than their Edwardian and neo-classical precursors, but still embodied municipal pride and a fitness for purpose. Typical architectural features of their output included a bold horizontal emphasis with vertical contrast frequently provided through the sparing use tall, narrow windows and a central tower. Happily several of their buildings are now listed, inluding the Bowes Road complex and Kenton Library shown below, but despite this Bowes Road is looking a little shabby these days and would certainly benefit from restoration work. The caretaker’s flat has some delightful exterior features and, as always, we would love to take a look inside to explore how Curtis and Burchett handled things in a domestic setting.
© Modernist Tourists 2017