MODERNIST ARCHITECTURE – GROPIUS AND CHERMAYEFF IN CHELSEA

66 Old Church Street, Chelsea

66 and 64 Old Church Street, Chelsea are just off the lower end of the Kings Road towards World’s End. Built in 1935/6, 66 was designed by Walter Gropius and Max Fry and is Gropius’s only major domestic building from the brief period when he was in the UK. It was built for the playwright Ben Levy. The building runs away are right angles to the street so you cannot get a clear view of the front. A dramatic feature of the street front are the angular windows in the log street front wall. Sadly in the 1960s the top floor terrace was filled in and the whole thing slate-hung. What possessed anyone to do that I can’t imagine – even without Gropius connection, it still humbles the façade and gives it a clumsy 60’s faux Cornish look. More recently Studio Bednarski have more sympathetically replaced the garage door with a wall of glass http://www.studio-bednarski.com/GROPIUS2.php.

Next door at 64 Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff designed a similar sized house for the publisher Denis Cohen. In contrast the 66, the house has survived more-or-less as built with tis long dramatic street front right on the pavement but for a low hedge. The long line of high windows make it look a little like a school or business premises. The two were built at the same time and it is interesting to note the balancing elements between the two houses. Taking the two as an extended streetscape, the larger blocks at either end provide a balance and the slit windows recur as a motif. The designers clearly compared notes.

64 Old Church Street, Chelsea

On the southern end of number 64 and open terrace was replaced in the 1970s by a large glasshouse by Norman Foster. Some feel it is respectful of the original other less so. I think the scale is domineering personally especially when seen from the Kings Road end (below). The choice of a grid of windows rather than large sheets reflects the grid of windows on the ground floor beyond but even so… At present (these photos were taken in August 2014) the plant-life inside seems to have grown out of control although the result is to diminish the architectural impact as it merges with the trees behind.
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