Powell and Moya

Powell and Moya
   In 1946, two years after graduating from the Architectural Association School in London, Arnold J.P.Powell and John Hidalgo Moya founded their partnership to carry out the Pimlico Housing Scheme (now Churchill Gardens, 1946– 62), which they had won in open competition. Positioned amongst the surrounding fine nineteenth-century terraces and squares, the development was widely acknowledged as one of the first significant postwar comprehensive redevelopment schemes in London.
   Influential both in attempting to establish a postwar vernacular, and in suggesting a radically new form of urban life based on Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse, 634 flats of varying size were provided in thirty-six slab blocks of two, four, seven and nine storeys, built in four sections parallel and at right angles to the river. Considered to be exemplary from the outset, Pevsner commented in the early 1980s that: ‘The aesthetic significance of Churchill Gardens is that even now, after twenty-five years, it has remained one of the best estates in London’. At first thought elegant and generating well-scaled spaces between them, the slab blocks are now believed to convey an image of overcrowding which fell short of the idealism of their continental inspiration. Now considered megalithic, desolate and cheerless, the scheme is accused, together with the Gospel Oak Estate (1954–80), where Powell and Moya designed a row of houses, of belonging to those well-intentioned architectural crimes committed by the welfare state. Problems have been excused on the grounds of high-density building, but this popular myth is exploded when numbers are compared with those housed in neighbouring Dolphin Square, designed in 1937.
   Other work includes the ‘skylon’ at the Festival of Britain, London 1951; Mayfield Comprehensive School, Putney (1956) described by Ian Nairn as ‘subtle, elegant, humane’; the addition to Brasenose College, Oxford (1959), recognizably modern but at the same time respectful of its historical context in its use of stone and lead; the innovative hexagonal theatre with arena stage, Chichester (1961); Cripps Buildings, St John’s College, Cambridge (1964), large and linear in form, employing Portland stone and concrete; Princess Margaret Hospital, Swindon (1972), and the Museum of London, in the Barbican redevelopment (1976). Approached at an upper level by bridges, the latter’s rather bland and utilitarian exterior belies the extraordinary richness of material relating to the social and cultural development of London housed within.
   HILARY GRAINGER

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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