Brunswick Centre redevelopment 29.07.14

Levitt Bernstein’s proposal to build a restaurant above the cinema in the grade II-listed Brunswick Centre in Bloomsbury has met with vocal opposition from the residents of the complex, as well as leading architects such as Richard Rogers. Owen Hatherley explains why

When going from public to private ownership, suitably “iconic” council housing often has extras bolted on, to remind buyers that they’re not on an estate anymore – from the penthouses on top of Lasdun's Keeling House to the total redesign of Sheffield's Park Hill.

The Brunswick Centre's redevelopment into “The Brunswick” has so far only suffered a paint job and the rejigging of its shopping square into an upmarket open-air mall, but that’s obviously not enough.

Now it faces the indignity of its most dramatic space, the colonnade raised above the Renoir Cinema, being infilled with a restaurant called, in typical regeneration idiot-speak, “The Eyecatcher”, smothering the Renoir cinema underneath – all to the designs of Levitt Bernstein, which, as the architect for its restoration in 2006, you’d think would know better.

The Brunswick Centre, designed by Patrick Hodgkinson - whose firm then included Levitt and Bernstein - and built in the early 1970s, is still one of London's most impressive post-war schemes.

Owing as much to Sant’Elia’s sketches for a futurist city as it does to Leslie Martin's attempt to create a “low-rise, high-density” modern architecture suited to the London street, it has featured in music videos and in international cinema, playing host to Jack Nicholson in Antonioni’s The Passenger. But at the heart of it is the conflict between its role as council housing and as a shopping mall.

While the housing in the Brunswick Centre – that of it which hasn't been sold off to designers via Right to Buy – is still owned by Camden Council, the shopping centre, “The Brunswick”, if you will, is administered by La Salle Investment Management, which is exhibiting the care for architectural integrity so characteristic of mall owners.

However, it's not a fait accompli – the building is listed grade II and Camden has yet to give permission.

A petition against the redevelopment is available to sign here

 

Words

Owen Hatherley

quotes story

At the heart of the Brunswick Centre is the conflict between its role as council housing and as a shopping mall

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