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Plaque unveiled to mark 80 years of Hampstead modernist icon the Isokon Building

The Isokon Building. Picture: Johnny Green/PA The Isokon Building. Picture: Johnny Green/PA

Wednesday, July 9, 2014
5:44 PM

Custodians of Hampstead’s iconic Isokon building welcomed residents and relatives of its creators to mark its 80th anniversary today.

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The plaque is unveiled by John Pritchard (left), grandson of Jack and Molly Pritchard and Matt Cohn, grandson of Wells Coates, the original architect. Picture: Polly Hancock.The plaque is unveiled by John Pritchard (left), grandson of Jack and Molly Pritchard and Matt Cohn, grandson of Wells Coates, the original architect. Picture: Polly Hancock.

The grandson of influential furniture designer Jack Pritchard, the building’s first owner, joined the grandson of the Isokon’s original architect, Wells Coats, at the launch of an exhibition celebrating the local landmark’s unusual history.

Eight decades to the day since their families opened the Isokon building, in Lawn Road, John Pritchard and Mr Coats’s grandson Matthew Cohen, 53 – better known as Matt Black from the legendary electronic music duo Coldcut – 
unveiled a new plaque in honour of the men who developed its legendary design.

Described as a modernist masterpiece, the Grade I-listed block – occasionally called the Lawn Road Flats – has been home to notable names including crime writer Agatha Christie, who reportedly likened the flats’ appearance to “a giant liner which ought to have a couple of funnels”.

The Bauhaus-inspired structure is renowned for its architectural significance as Britain’s first domestic building made of concrete – a minimalist look which attracted a string of left-wing intellectuals from Central Europe, including Jewish modernist architect Marcel Breuer, who left Germany when the Nazis rose to power.

Influential furniture designer Jack Pritchard, the first owner of the Isokon BuildingInfluential furniture designer Jack Pritchard, the first owner of the Isokon Building

But it was recently revealed that the Isokon flats also lodged up to 25 Soviet Union spies during the Second World War, headed by Arnold Deutsch who controlled the notorious “Cambridge Five” syndicate which rebelled against Britain.

Despite the Isokon’s remarkable heritage, it experienced a period of uncertainty after its eminent Isobar club closed in 1969. The building slowly went into disrepair until, in 2003, it received a new lease of life through restoration works.

The permanent exhibition opens to visitors in the block’s communal gallery on Saturday, featuring archived letters and photographs from past occupants as well as furniture designed by the isometric unit construction company that gave the building its name.

Isokon Gallery Trust member, Magnus Englund, believes the building’s sleek style makes it seem much younger than its 80 years. “People can’t believe it was built in the 1930s,” he said. “I think the architecture was really ahead of its time.”

Jack and Molly Pritchard's flat in the Isokon Building in Lawn Road
, with furniture by Marcel Breuer. Picture: Sidney Newbery/Architect and Building NewsJack and Molly Pritchard's flat in the Isokon Building in Lawn Road , with furniture by Marcel Breuer. Picture: Sidney Newbery/Architect and Building News

Mr Englund, 48, who lives in the historic penthouse flat that belonged to John Pritchard, added: “I find the building special on so many levels. There have been so many important residents that it is difficult to know whom to mention.”

The Isokon exhibition in Lawn Road, Hampstead, will be open every Saturday and Sunday between 11am and 4pm. Visit isokongallery.co.uk for more information.

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