The coin left his finger tips, flew onto the screen, hit the desired target and then bounced back on the floor. Patrick had forgotten his slide pointer, and a coin would do the job, in an even more theatrical way. He was an inspiring lecturer. He told us of a time just after the war, when architects had the task of building housing as a symbol of hope for the future. He presented Modernist architects as Romantic heroes who were turning a new leaf in the history of civilization, having been given the task of reconstructing the war destroyed old continent. In a time when we are turning London into a city of high rise towers, it is also relevant to look back at his built work: the Brunswick Centre near Russell Square, London, for example. The developer had originally intended to build two tower blocks there, but the LCC would only allow building to a height of 80 feet. Hodgkinson, having come from the atelier of Leslie Martin in Cambridge, was apt in developing the alternative to high-rise: low-rise and high-density. So he designed a scheme with the same density as the tower blocks, but without building the towers: in effect, the Brunswick consists of two ‘horizontal towers’. It was also originally intended to act as a social condenser, mixing different social classes together; it was meant to include sixteen different types of accommodation that ranged from penthouses to hostels for local students of medicine. The council took over the project in financial difficulty and axed the penthouses and the hostels, leaving a smaller version of the bedsits and one and two bedrooms flats instead. Currently about eighty percent of the flats are social housing, the rest being privately owned.
Contrary to how many have seen it, and how it was filmed by Michelangelo Antonioni in Passenger of 1975, the Brunswick was always meant to be finished not in exposed concrete, but in Bloomsbury stucco cream colour, which it only started reverting to in more recent times under a renewed supervision by Hodgkinson. This chromatic and haptic disagreement and many other programmatic cuts by the developers partially also due to the compensation for the inhabitants of the original overcrowded Georgian terraces, were some of the the reasons Hodgkinson was forced to walk away from the job during construction as it was moving further and further away from his original vision.
Hodgkinson was a Modernist hero for us students at the University of Bath; whether he endorsed a student’s work or criticized it was the ultimate judgement of merit within 6 East, the architecture and engineering faculty designed by Alison and Peter Smithsons. It was in fact advice by the Smithsons to Italian architect Gino Valle that led me to leave Rome to study in Bath under the aura of Hodgkinson.
The Brunswick Centre was to be Hodgkinson’s main completed building, a life-time project which he began in 1959, left in 1970, and returned to work on in 2003. It is one of London’s most famous ‘megastructures’, critic Reyner Banham called it:’the most pondered, most learned, most acclaimed, most monumental, most bedevilled in its building history of all English megastructures’.
In 2000 the Brunswick Centre received Grade II listing, and fortunately Hodgkinson lived to see his project coming closer to his vision in the last ten years, especially after the application of the Bloomsbury cream colour that ties it chromatically to Bloomsbury street level stucco, and its revamp that turned it from what was perceived by many as a concrete dinosaur to a more Modernist metaphor of a cream coloured transatlantic ocean liner that has somehow reached central London, to stay moored there providing low-rise high-density housing that is much needed in today’s Britain, hopefully for many centuries to come.
For more on Modernist estates see: