This summer I have been visiting Hampstead Garden Suburb, in north London on a series of day trips. Hampstead was a pioneering garden suburb designed by Raymond Unwin, Barry Parker and Edwin Lutyens with many other Arts & Crafts Movement architects contributing buildings. Mervyn Miller’s book on the suburb has been indispensable!
I love this suburb and enjoy deciphering the nuances of design that Parker and Unwin pioneered and liked to use. Unlike their other estates, Hampstead’s buildings were designed by a wide range of Arts & Crafts architects, so there is a lot for the architectural historian as well as the town planner to see.
The centre of Hampstead is Edwin Lutyens’ work and it was a late change from the picturesque village core originally designed by Parker and Unwin. Historically, it marks a change from the informal design of the early Arts & Crafts movement to the formality of the post 1906 movement as many architects reworked their styles towards the neo-Georgian, which flourished after World War I.
Like Lutyens, Manchester’s architect, Edgar Wood, designed a very formal entrance scheme for Wellgarth Street in 1908/9. This was to have been one of the the main entrances but Edgar Wood’s pioneering art deco was much too radical for the locals and it was never built. In this way, Hampstead turned down one of the first art deco designs in the world… imagine the heritage value of that now! Here is what he proposed…
Lutyens was more traditional than Edgar Wood but his set-piece was only slightly less adventurous style-wise, with its strong forms. However, it has the richer forms and materials of traditional design whereas Wood’s work steps firmly into the plain territory of modernism.
Lutyens’ designs are perhaps best described as ‘garden city monumental’ and the subtleties grow on you the more you look. Although his buildings are wonderful, planners often find the centre a dead space, lacking the natural places and mixed uses for a range of social interaction. I believe Unwin was not too impressed for the same reason.