A complex of 95 flats and houses of 1986-1990 by David Price and Gordon Cullen for Roger Malcolm Homes, in two courtyard phases of near-symmetrical design.
Reasons for Designation
Swedish Quays of 1986-1990, by David Price and Gordon Cullen, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* a striking and distinctive Post-Modern composition with precise, multi-layered detailing skilfully executed in good quality materials;
* contextually astute, its monumental scale and use of materials references the former buildings and dock walls of the industrial landscape in which it sits;
* a successful example of townscape created by Gordon Cullen, Britain’s most influential planning theorist and architectural illustrator of the post-war period.
Post-Modernism, a movement and a style prevalent in architecture between about 1975 and 1990, is defined in terms of its relationship with modern architecture. Post-Modernist architecture is characterised by its plurality, engagement with urban context and setting, reference to older architectural traditions and use of metaphor and symbolism. As a formal language it has affinities with mannerism (unexpected exaggeration, distortions of classical scale and proportion) and the spatial sophistication of Baroque architecture. Post-Modernism accepts the technology of industrialised society but expresses it in more diverse ways than the machine imagery of the contemporary High-Tech style.
The origins of the style are found in the United States, notably in the work of Robert Venturi and Charles Moore which combined aspects of their country’s traditions (ranging from the C19 Shingle Style to Las Vegas) with the knowing irony of pop art. A parallel European stream combined an abstracted classicism or a revival of 1930s rationalism with renewed interest in the continental city and its building types. In England, the American and European idioms converged in the late 1970s, to produce works by architects of international significance, including James Stirling, and distinctive voices unique to Britain such as John Outram. The 1980s revival of the British economy was manifested in major urban projects by Terry Farrell and others in London, while practices such as CZWG devised striking imagery for commercial and residential developments in Docklands and elsewhere.
(Thomas) Gordon Cullen (1914-1994) trained as an artist and architect at the Central School and Regent Street Polytechnic in London where he showed great promise as a draughtsman, despite being blind in one eye. His illustrations included a series for the landscape architect Christopher Tunnard in 1938-1939 that suggested a growing interest in the spaces between buildings. Meanwhile, he worked in 1933-1935 for the Australian modernist Raymond McGrath and then for Godfrey Samuel and from 1936-1938 for Tecton, the firm established by Berthold Lubetkin, where he designed a mural for the Finsbury Health Centre (1935-1938) and worked on Highpoint II in Haringey (1936-1938) both listed at Grade I, where he rented a flat. He helped another assistant, Peter Moro, complete a private house, Heather Meadow at Birdham near Chichester (1938-1940, Grade II). Cullen was rejected for military service but designed factories and exhibitions before going to Barbados in 1944 to plan housing and schools.
He returned to London in 1946 to become assistant art editor of the Architectural Review. Working for a highly visual readership, his distinctive graphics and drawing style made a profound influence on a generation, as still more did a series of inspiring illustrated articles that developed the idea of ‘townscape’. Townscape was first conceived by the Architectural Review editor, Hubert de Cronin Hastings, in association with Thomas Sharp, but Cullen added visual expertise that made the idea his own, and he produced a series of highly influential articles that were collected and expanded into a book, Townscape (1961), which remains in print and has been extensively translated. A smaller version, The Concise Townscape, was published for students a decade later. Commissions included a series of grand planning schemes that were widely published, including a new town, Maryculter near Aberdeen, but nothing was ever realised.
The Surrey dock complex in Rotherhithe in south London ceased operation in 1969 when the area, along with the Docklands north of the river, was handed to the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) to oversee regeneration, principally housing. In 1981-1982 Cullen was commissioned by the LDDC under Edward Hollamby to produce a series of planning proposals for the Isle of Dogs, working with David Gosling, architect of Irving new town and professor of architecture at Sheffield University. These came to nothing, but the work introduced him to one of Gosling’s young graduate architects, David Price (1955-2009). The pair, initially with another young architect, Peter Low, produced more designs for Hollamby and a report for the University of Strathclyde, before in 1985 they formed a partnership. The two architects complimented each other, for Cullen suffered from shyness and a fear of public speaking, while Price had the formal qualifications and the ability to get ideas across in meetings. An exhibition of his work that year brought Cullen to still wider attention, and he and Price secured a commission for Docklands housing from the ambitious developer, Roger Malcolm Homes, on a strip of land between South Dock and Greenland Dock. The latter, excavated in the late-C17, was used for arctic whalers in the mid-C18 and timber/grain imports from the mid-C19. The site had previously been occupied by granaries and warehousing, demolished as part of the area’s regeneration.
Price and Cullen produced an initial design in 1985 which they later expanded to 95 houses and flats, built around two courtyards with a central landscaped avenue between the two almost symmetrical halves. Construction commenced in 1986 and the first phase received a National House Builders Award in 1988; the second half was completed in 1990, the total cost being £12 million. It led to one more built project in 1986-1988, for Wimpey Homes at Quay West in the Isle of Dogs, a more mundane scheme with a lower budget than Swedish Quays. Other commissions for plans followed, but the practice realised no more buildings. Cullen designed only four buildings, a school in St Vincent, West Indies; a village hall in Wraysbury in Berkshire, where he lived, and the two residential schemes in London’s Docklands. His career came to an end when in 1990 he suffered a heart attack, from which his health never recovered; David Price died aged 54 in 2009.
A complex of 95 flats and houses of 1986-1990 by David Price and Gordon Cullen for Roger Malcolm Homes, in two courtyard phases of near-symmetrical design. Datestones of 1988 on both sections record ‘design and built by Roger Malcolm, London, architects Price & Cullen’. The bespoke windows are by Archer Joinery of Belvedere, Kent.
MATERIALS AND STRUCTURE: a reinforced concrete frame supported on piled foundations, with the ground floors and corner pavilions of the dockside elevations clad in white Yorkshire limestone and the upper floors in dark brick over blockwork. The courtyard elevations have rendered entrances to the upper maisonettes contrasting with buff brick. The roofs have steel trusses and slate coverings. Internally, the cross-walls are of conventional construction.
PLAN: the complex is formed of two rectangular courtyards, defined by blocks of housing, separated by a central street wide enough to give views of the river. The western courtyard is slightly larger, accommodating 48 units, the east has 47 and each has a central access from Rope Street to the south.
There are four-storey houses with doors to the front and back on the short sides of each courtyard; two-storey maisonettes are entered from the rear (some on Rope Street have balconies) over three-storey maisonettes entered from both sides facing Greenland Dock and South Dock (Rope Street), with flats in the corners towards Greenland Dock and a single-storey unit raised on pilotis facing Rope Street (numbers 48 and 49), where the massing is broken down by stepped entrance blocks to the courtyards.
EXTERIOR: all elevations have bespoke top-hung dark hardwood casement timber windows with square glazes defined by thick glazing bars, either flush with the elevations in rectangular and inverted ‘L’-shapes, or projecting in a variety of forms including triangular, square and tall round-arch headed oriels.
The elevations to Greenland Dock are continuously tall and bold in treatment, the upper floors oversailing the battered-back ground floor on pilotis with rendered giant order columns supporting a pent hood above the second floor. Above, double-height, round-arch headed oriels in singles and pairs alternate with pairs of recessed balconies, all beneath gabled roofs. The corner pavilions containing the flats are generally of four storeys with attics, but the northernmost block has five storeys. The two inner blocks have hipped and round-arch dormer windows; the south block is topped by a penthouse with glazed elevations. They have shallow, slightly-canted hipped roofs with a deep oversail supported on slender metal eaves brackets. The elevations have ‘L’-shaped and rectangular windows and a near continuous vertical line of windows lighting the communal stairs accessed from the ground floor. At the outer corners are open balconies, through which the vertical corner column passes, with slender metal balustrades.
Access into the courtyards is from Rope Street to the south, through openings framed by stepped blocks each with shallow hipped roofs letting maximum light into the courtyard. The Rope Street elevation has three storeys with attics; the upper floors clad in buff brick are supported by pilotis over the limestone-clad ground floor. There are balconies at the first floor, some open others with enclosing conservatories. Above are projecting double-height, round-arched oriel windows, the upper part within the attic spaces of the hipped roof. The internal long courtyard elevations are similar in their composition but have subtle differences. There are no pilotis or giant order columns, except for the corner column to each projecting corner block. There are projecting, rendered stair turrets with round-arched upper lanterns and each range has a continuous band of upper clerestory windows. Above the pent hood at second floor are conservatories, above which are pairs of round-arched oriel windows.
The elevations of each house at the short sides (west and east ends of the complex) of each courtyard comprise an entrance door at the ground floor with projecting triangular and rectangular windows at the first and second floors. At the third floor is a continuous band of clerestory windows to the hipped roof.
INTERIOR: not inspected (2017). Price and Cullen’s intention was to blur the distinction between the interior and exterior, clearly expressed by the glazed oriel windows and roof-top conservatories which push out from the main structure. It is understood that there are open staircases with grid motifs and that the townhouses have partly double-height master bedrooms and sleeping alcoves near to the clerestory window. Press reviews of the time note the spaciousness of each unit and the use of high-level gardens and terraces, but there is no evidence that the internal arrangement or fixtures and fittings of each unit are distinctive.
Pursuant to s1(5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the courtyard structures and surfaces are not of special architectural or historic interest.