The Lawn Road Flats: Spies, Writers and Artists by David Burke - review by Jeremy Lewis

Jeremy Lewis

Soviet Block

The Lawn Road Flats: Spies, Writers and Artists


The Boydell Press 271pp £25 order from our bookshop

Nothing since has seemed quite so modern as the modernism that flourished between the wars, whether in literature, music, painting or sculpture; and the Lawn Road Flats in Hampstead, built in 1934 and now a listed building, are the quintessence of architectural modernism. Their architect, Wells Coates – a dashing Canadian with a touch of Errol Flynn about him – shared Le Corbusier’s belief that a house should be a ‘machine for living in’ and that the architect should ‘refine and simplify design, dispensing with ornamentation’. Coates saw his work as a partial ‘solution to the social and economic problems of today’, an essential ingredient of which was ‘the replacement of natural materials by scientific ones, and more particularly the development of steel and concrete construction’. 

With its communal walkways, huge glass windows and minimalist design, Coates’s creation was, as he saw it, a blueprint for the ‘construction of large blocks of working class tenements’ – and so it proved, though life in the high-rise blocks that proliferated after the Second World War, with their stained

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

OUP Niven

Follow Literary Review on Twitter