The London County Council architects department in the 1950s came to typify the post war optimism and enthusiasm of the period and justifiably stands as a landmark period in the history of British architecture.

“There was a very heady feeling at the time, that we were building a new Britain, there was no question about that”. – Oliver Cox speaking in High Rise Dreams

“For the leaders of the postwar architectural generation, the goals seemed clear and compelling. The world was theirs to reshape and improve, and architecture was the means of doing so.” – Oliver Cox Guardian obituary

“In 1956, the Housing Division of the Architect’s Department of the London County Council (LCC) employed 310 architects who worked together on the design and realization of housing projects aimed at alleviating the huge post-war shortage of (decent) homes.”

Elain Harwood of the C20th Society has written a comprehensive and excellent history of the LCC of which I have reproduced the first paragraph below:-

London county council architects (act. c.1940–1965) were a group of young, highly talented, and enterprising practitioners who looked back to, and drew inspiration from, the first generation of architects—the ‘band of brothers’—to work for the London county council (LCC) in the decade after its creation in 1889. Then, under its first Progressive (Liberal) administrations, the council’s architecture department had been noted for the first housing schemes, such as those at Boundary Road and Millbank, that were both attractive and sanitary.

After the Second World War those working in the four divisions of the LCC’s architects’ department—schools, housing, planning, and general—were likewise responsible for a remarkable and extensive programme of planning, rebuilding, and modernization of the capital’s municipal buildings, open spaces, schools, and above all, housing, which had been severely depleted by the war (of the 98,000 dwellings owned by the LCC 11,000 had been damaged or destroyed).

LCC by Elain Harwood

Elain Harwood is an architectural historian, and a keen and active member of the Twentieth Century Society.  She has made television appearances such as One Foot in the Past and written books including Housing the C20th Nation (Twentieth Century Architecture).

Oliver Cox who died recently was one of the LCC architects too, though not mentioned in the extracts above, his Guardian and Times obituary may be found at the following links:-

or here Oliver Cox  Obituary

There was a film made too, about the LCC architects, a compilation of other films along the same lines but with the emphasis on the group described above.  I have reviewed High Rise Dreams with stills at the following link:-

High Rise Dreams

Another film that features the work of the LCC architects in London is Utopia London, released last year on DVD and reviewed all over the place, my take on it is here:- Utopia London

County of London Plan

County of London Plan on Flickr

with thanks for the link to Steve Collins

Follow up . . .

Crucial to this has been the role of social housing; in fact it is inconceivable that London could function at all today if it had not been for the extraordinary achievement of the LCC/GLC and the boroughs particularly in the pre war and post war periods.

For 30 years social housing has been derided and denigrated, with politicians and the media playing up design and tenure as the cause of crime and social problems. Councils have been starved of resources for sensible maintenance and forced to outsource management in order to get funding, as we have seen along the Regents Canal for example.

Actually what communities like Hackney need is for their local authorities to have more power and autonomy to provide social housing, not as a supplicant to the private sector but as the democratic and accountable expression of their communities.

UPDATE: A talk about the early years on the RCA site here -> MP3

A paean to the LCC and municipal architects by Owen Hatherley writing in Dezeen magazine

Bring back the municipal architecture department

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