Berthold Lubetkin

Berthold Romanovich Lubetkin (December 14 1901October 23 1990) was a Russian émigré architect who pioneered modernist design in Britain in the 1930s.

Early years

Born in Tbilisi, Georgia, Lubetkin studied in Moscow and Leningrad where he witnessed the Russian Revolution of 1917 and absorbed elements of Constructivism, both as a participant in street festivals and as a student at VKhUTEMAS.

Lubetkin practiced in Paris in the 1920s in partnership with Jean Ginsburg, with whom he designed an apartment building on the Avenue de Versailles. In Paris he associated with the leading figures of the European Avant Garde including Le Corbusier. He continued to participate in the debates of Constructivism, designing a trade pavilion for the USSR in Bordeaux and participating in the Palace of the Soviets competition, for which his entry was shortlisted.

Tecton in the 1930s

Emigrating to London in 1931, Lubetkin set up the architectural practice Tecton. The first projects of TECTON included landmark buildings for London Zoo, the gorilla house and a penguin pool (clearly showing the influence of Naum Gabo). Tecton were also commissioned by London Zoo to design buildings for their reserve park at Whipsnade and to design a completely new zoo in Dudley. Dudley Zoo consisted of twelve animal enclosures and was a unique example of early Modernism in the UK. All of the original enclosures survive, apart from the penguin pool, which was demolished in 1979. According to the 20th Century Society: 'Encapsulated in the playful pavilions at Dudley is a call to remember the higher calling of all architecture, embracing not just material needs but also the desire to inspire and delight.' [ [ The Twentieth Century Society ] ]

Tecton's housing projects included private houses in Sydenham and Plumstead, south London, and most famously the Highpoint apartments in Highgate. Highpoint One was singled out for particular praise by Le Corbusier, while Highpoint Two exhibited a more surreal style, with its patterned facade and caryatids at the entrance. Lubetkin and Tecton were involved in the MARS Group, until they set up the more radical Architects and Technicians Organisation in 1936.The Labour Party council in the London borough of Finsbury were major patrons of Tecton, commissioning the Finsbury Health Centre, which was completed in 1938. Lubetkin defended the Modernism of this public health project by declaring 'nothing is too good for ordinary people.' Tecton also prepared a housing plan for Finsbury which would be postponed by the onset of war in 1939. The Health Centre symbolised the embryonic Welfare State and NHS, appearing on a propaganda poster headed 'Your Britain- Fight for it Now'. Tecton's work would also be the major influence on the Festival of Britain.

For most of these projects Lubetkin and Tecton worked closely with Ove Arup as structural engineer.

In 1941, Lubetkin designed a memorial to Lenin, which was placed in Finsbury's Holford Square. While provided with a 24-hour armed guard to prevent attacks from local fascists, it was buried by Lubetkin in 1951, following the outbreak of the Cold War. [" [ Secret Statues] ", "The Londoner", June 2006]

Post War

Following the Second World War Tecton worked on expanded versions of their pre-war Finsbury projects. They became the Spa Green Estate, the first stone of which was laid by Aneurin Bevan in 1946, and the Priory Green Estate. Led by Denys Lasdun, Tecton also designed the Hallfield Estate in Paddington. These all showed a more decorative, patterned style which contrasted greatly with the embryonic Brutalism. Also in Finsbury, the Bevin Court housing block was originally designed as 'Lenin Court' to accompany the Lenin Memorial, but was changed to commemorate the death of the Labour foreign secretary Ernest Bevin. The building is well known for its daring Constructivist staircase.

In 1947 Lubetkin was commissioned to be master planner and chief architect for the Peterlee new town. Concentrating on Peterlee led Lubetkin to break up Tecton. The masterplan for Peterlee included a new civic centre for which Lubetkin proposed a number of high rise towers. However the extraction of coal was to continue under the town for several years which would have caused subsidence and the developers and Coal Board would only consider a dispersed low density development.

Frustrated, Lubetkin resigned from Peterlee in 1949 and retired to Gloucestershire where he managed a farm. Lubetkin continued to submit proposals to design competitions but by the end of the 1950s his style had fallen out of favour. Nonetheless in the late 50s and early 60s Lubetkin, along with former Tecton partners Douglas Bailey and Francis Skinner designed several large council estates in Tower Hamlets: the Cranbrook Estate, Dorset Estate (which featured the tower Sivill House) and the Lakeview Estate, all of which continued the idiom of complicated abstract facades and Constructivist staircases established in the 1940s.

Lubetkin eventually moved to Bristol where he lived with his wife. In 1982 Lubetkin was awarded the RIBA Gold Medal. He died in Bristol in 1990. Lubetkin was the subject of a Design Museum exhibition in 2005. His daughter, Louise Kehoe, published an award-winning memoir in 1995 which included previously unknown details of Lubetkin's early years.

Associated with Lubetkin

* Ove Arup
* Marcel Breuer
* Wells Coates

ee also

* Ernő Goldfinger
* Isokon
* MARS Group
* Constructivist architecture


Further reading

* John Allan - "Lubetkin: Architecture and the Tradition of Progress" (RIBA Publications, 1992) ISBN 0-947877-62-2
* John Allan and Morley von Sternberg - "Berthold Lubetkin" (Merrell Publishers, 2002) ISBN 1-85894-171-7
* Louise Kehoe - "In This Dark House: A Memoir" (Schocken Books, 1995) ISBN 0-8052-4122-1
* M. Reading and P. Coe - "Lubetkin and Tecton: An Architectural Study" (Triangle Architectural Publications, 1992) ISBN 1-871825-01-6

External links

* [ Berthold Lubetkin, Architect (1901-1990): Designing Modern Britain] - Design Museum Exhibition
* [ Twentieth Century Society article on Dudley Zoo]
* [ Lubetkin at A&A]
* [ Tecton at A&A]
* [ Lubetkin's Sivill House, Bethnal Green, London E2]
* [ Spa Green Tenants' Website]

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