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More from Alexander Davidson

The Barbican and the Making of the Modern Office Building – Pt. 1

The Barbican Redevelopment Scheme, comprising the Barbican Estate, Barbican Arts Centre and the office buildings around London Wall and Moorgate, is well known to people with an affection for twentieth-century architecture, and has become major cultural centre in its own right. Nevertheless, very few people are aware of how a type of plastic manufactured in rural Kent quietly revolutionised the design and construction of modern office building, in particular the curtain-walling systems that enabled open-plan offices. In the first of two viewpoints on the New Barbican, Alexander Davidson tells a story encompassing two office buildings built as part of the Barbican Redevelopment Scheme – Lee House and St Alphage House – and how the plastic Holoplast was manufactured, used in construction, and eventually came to be demonised by the City of London Corporation.

The House of the Future at Olympia London

This viewpoint focusses on a futuristic vision for plastics in architecture and interior design: Alison and Peter Smithson‘s House of the Future, which was shown at the Daily Mail Ideal Home Show at the London Olympia Exhibition Centre in 1956. The exhibition structure, containing everything from chairs made of fibreglass to bedding fashioned out of Nylon, popularised an aesthetic for the materials’ use in architectural and visual design which has lasted until the present day.

Winterton House and Plastic Cladding

The viewpoint deals with four Greater London Council housing blocks – two in Tower Hamlets and a second pair in Westminster, where the architects employed an experimental plastics building system in their design and construction. More latterly, the buildings were involved in the “Homes for Votes” scandal in the 1980s, which has received renewed attention in the light of the Grenfell Tower disaster.

More in United Kingdom

The site of Coventry Hall

A single cedar tree is the only reminder of the demolished seat of the Dukes of Bedford and the Earl of Coventry, later Britain’s only Anglican convent.