Brixton’s Barrier Block: ‘When it went up everyone hated it’

Greater than 50 years after it was once designed, Southwyck Space nonetheless looms over Brixton in south London, drawing fascination and dislike in equivalent measure.

At first council housing, the large concrete construction with tiny home windows has been likened to a jail and is understood in the neighborhood because the “Barrier Block”. There was once hypothesis when it was once constructed within the early 1970s the folks introduced housing there didn’t need to transfer in as a result of its harsh facade. Some other continual hearsay is that the architect at the back of it hated the general public complaint of her paintings such a lot that she killed herself.

However sitting in her area in Lambeth, having simply gained her Covid booster vaccination, the construction’s architect, Magda Borowiecka, may be very a lot alive and neatly. When the block is discussed she shall we out fun at “that dreadful barrier”.

One of the vital truths concerning the design of Southwyck Space regularly misplaced within the telling of its historical past is that its distinctive design was once practical on the time. Borowiecka was once instructed she had to create a construction that might sit down subsequent to a raised flyover, a plan that was once in the end deserted.

“Firstly everybody hated [Southwyck House] nevertheless it was once maddening for me as a result of I knew why I designed it that means,” stated Borowiecka, 90.

The construction was once commissioned via Lambeth council to deal with 2,500 folks. The plans have been authorized via a making plans committee that integrated the longer term top minister John Primary.

“The highway would had been 60feet up within the air, so I had to create a clean wall going up upper than that. It was once relatively depressing and I had to consider some solution to make an enchanting construction,” Borowiecka stated, including that this was once why it has such small home windows.

Magda Borowiecka
Magda Borowiecka: ‘My major drawback is it turned into type of widely known and I nonetheless don’t adore it.’ Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Mother or father

“Once we have been going out to mushy they determined to not do the highway, and John Primary, who was once my boss in Lambeth, determined to head on with it as a result of such a lot effort and cash had long past into the design. When it went up everybody hated it.”

She stated she was once “very disenchanted” about this. “Other people used it as a explanation why to not have council architects. Primary himself wrote in papers about it being terrible even supposing he commissioned it.”

The Mother or father ran an editorial on the time asking: “What sort of insensitive megalomaniac may have dreamed up this type of scheme, even now we may have realized the teachings of such huge estates, desolate, impersonal and crime-prone?”

Borowiecka stated she was once extra involved in low-rise constructions and is a ways prouder of labor she has finished somewhere else, comparable to housing in Dunbar Boulevard, West Norwood. When requested if she sought after to peer the Barrier Block got rid of, she stated it was once “now not doing the process it was once intended to be doing in this day and age”.

“My major drawback is it turned into type of widely known and I nonetheless don’t adore it,” she stated. “What I might have appreciated to have finished is have a perfect large poster at the Barrier Block announcing that is constructed this fashion as a result of a highway.”

Brutalist structure has made a comeback lately and received a following. Borowiecka’s construction has gave the impression in publications about this type of design, and it has gave the impression in works of art and impressed designs on T-shirts.

Borowiecka appears to be like again with fondness at her time operating for Lambeth and is regretful that there’s no longer as a lot council housing and construction. “As an architect I experience fixing issues, and with Southwyck Space that highway was once a colossal drawback,” she stated. “I’m unhappy that housing in London has now develop into so unaffordable,” she added.

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