UPDATE: 28th November 2014 Tonight at the Royal Geological Society John Allan gave a superb address in support of FHC and won the vote for best C20th Society building on their 100 buildings list. Tweet.

JohnAllanFHC


The Borough of Finsbury is notable for having a number of buildings by the same architectural practice, in this case Tecton a spin off from the MARS group of architects (Modern Architecture Research Group) formed in the 1930s by a group of forward looking Modernist architects seeking to make their mark.

Our journey begins in the bustling streets of Finsbury with a walk along Rosebury Avenue heading for Pine Street with the Mount Pleasant Post Office building the nearest landmark.

Tucked away in a car free zone and partly hidden from view by extensive vegetation stands the second health centre of its kind, a beacon of hope of what were then the smog and slum ridden streets of 1930s London.

Both Kirsty Wark in From Here to Modernity and Tom Cordell in Utopia London cover the building is some detail including an interview with John Allan, the biographer of Berthold Lubetkin and a clip of Lubetkin visiting the building fifty years on in the company of John Allan.

Neave Brown (architect of Alexandra Road and others) makes an interesting point referring to its effect on the climate of the time.

“Incipient in it was the idea of a social program.  Just to think of it as a health centre is the wrong way to understand Lubetkin, or the social ideas of the people he was working with.  Which was that it would become a bigger social exemplar than just a health centre.”

It is significant to my mind that it was conceived and built before the Second World War.  One thinks so often of the golden years being 1945 – 1979 and yet radical left wing thinking was in place in the 1930s and being acted upon.

I did enter the building briefly, which is in use by the way, to ask if I might see the lobby and was asked not to take photographs.  Light floods in from the glass block walls and the foyer is spacious and attractive if spoilt only by the decision of the LHA to screen off the reception desk like a 1970s bank in the face of an armed raid.

This and the somewhat excessive vegetation outside which hide the building are my only two criticisms but both are easily remedied.

More troubling is the setting, which in my opinion is compromised by the modern terraced opposite which cramps the setting.  I’m not entirely sure why, there must have been buildings there before but these look incongruous.  Perhaps it’s because they don’t fit the period but I look forward to a future when the health centre remains and these have been replaced by something more in keeping with the 1930s.

I’m not sure what I really expected to see.  A row of taller buildings certainly.  Three or four storey, soot blackened perhaps, more in keeping with the period of the building opposite which in some sense their presence reflects.  I think that the context of a building is as important as the building itself and in this case I think that has been forgotten.

Beside the health centre stands a modest building much more in keeping with the period which rather proves my point.

The inscription carved in stone above the door states the following:-

Borough of Finsbury Maternity and Child Welfare Centre

This small building has a nobility about it in its modesty and stands as in delightful contrast to its neighbour.  I sincerely hope two things.  The first that it is never demolished for this would diminish both buildings; secondly that when the time comes for that row of indifferent modern terraces to be replaced that some thought is given to replacing them with something more in keeping with the period in order to create a historic setting so that both the Maternity Clinic and the health centre can stand in a setting that gives them the respect they are due.

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