architecture / People

Magical metro-land

25 January 2024

As a huge fan of our borough’s modernist architecture, I thought I knew all of the architectural gems that existed around Croydon. That was until I chatted with author Joshua Abbott, who is in the process of writing his second architectural guide to the best art deco, modernist and brutalist buildings of London’s suburbs. His first book ‘A Guide to Modernism in Metro-Land’, celebrated the buildings in the northern and western boroughs. His new book ‘Modernism Beyond Metro-land’ focuses on London’s eastern and southern suburbs, with a whole chapter on Croydon (of course).

Left: Alico House. Right: Capella Court.

Croydonist: We’re excited to hear you’re writing a new book that celebrates some of our modernist architecture. In a sentence what’s the book about?

Joshua: Modernism Beyond Metro-Land is an exploration of the art deco, modernist and brutalist buildings of the eastern and southern suburbs of London, from Waltham Forest in the north east around to Kingston upon Thames in the south west, including of course, Croydon.

Croydonist: Tell us a bit more about the project.

Joshua: I started the Modernism in Metro-Land website in 2011, as an extension of a university project. The site started off exploring the modernist buildings of north-west London, and has gradually expanded to cover all of the capital’s suburbs. As well as the website, I have guided walking tours, given talks, self published various guides, and in 2020 published A Guide to Modernism in Metro-Land, covering the northern and western boroughs. Modernism Beyond Metro-Land will complete the journey around the suburbs.

Left: South Norwood Library. Right: Balmoral Court South Norwood.

Croydonist: What’s your link to Croydon and which of our buildings feature in your book?

Joshua: To be honest, I hadn’t even been to Croydon until I started this book! I had long wanted to visit the town centre with its collection of 1960s and 70s high rise blocks, and they have an extended section on the book, but I am impressed with the variety of modernist buildings in the borough. The book will feature buildings such as Croydon airport, the 1930s factories around Purley Way, some of the art deco houses of Purley and Coulsdon, the experimental St Bernards Estate in Park Hill, the brutalist South Norwood Library and many more.

Left: St Matthews Church. Right: Croydon Airport.

Croydonist: Why choose London’s eastern and southern suburbs to showcase?

Joshua: I wanted to complete the suburban circle, started by A Guide to Modernism in Metro-Land. That book featured Charles Holden’s Piccadilly Line stations, the art deco factories of the Golden Mile in Brentford and apartment blocks like Highpoint in Highgate, all famous modernist buildings but the southern and eastern suburbs are less well documented. Hopefully Modernism Beyond Metro-Land can shine a light on the overlooked buildings of not just Croydon, but other less celebrated boroughs like Sutton, Havering and Redbridge.

Croydonist: Why did you feel it was important to include some of Croydon’s buildings?

Joshua: The cliched view of Croydon is of a concrete jungle, but the borough has a great selection of buildings that also often have an interesting history, like Croydon Airport becoming the country’s only international airport in the 1920s or the art deco home of actor Peter Cushing in Purley. Behind the way a building is designed is often a number of historical factors that go beyond just style.

NLA sign

Croydonist: What are your top three Croydon buildings?

Joshua: A tough choice, but I think I would for these three;

1: The former NLA building (aka thrupenny bit/50p building) by Richard Seifert & Partners. An icon of Croydon and one of the first buildings you see when you arrive at East Croydon station. The design of the rotated floors, allowing light into each office, is ingenious and my favourite bit is the NLA sign at the base of the building in concrete and tile.

(Croydonist: How have we not noticed that amazing sign before!)

2: Capella Court (1964-67), the oval-shaped office building on the Brighton Road by Raglan Squires & Partners. An eye-catching building anywhere but even more so in the suburban surrounds of Purley. An interesting contrast to Croydon town centre’s more-vertically inclined offices, a lovely bit of space-age design.

3: Another unexpected find is 75 Fairdene Road, Coulsdon, a 1937 Rudolf Steiner-influenced house by Hungarian architect George Nemes with an irregular facade decorated in organic motifs, such as the branch-like designs on the garage doors and around the curving brick entrance staircase.

(Croydonist: We’ll be on a pilgrimage to this building soon!)

75 Fairdene Road, Coulsdon

Croydonist: How can our readers get their hands on a copy of your new book, and when will it be available?

Joshua: The book is being crowdfunded with Unbound, who also published A Guide to Modernism in Metro-Land, and it has reached nearly 80% of its funding total. To sign up for a copy just go to the Unbound website and choose which pledge package you would like. The book should be ready in early 2025.

Thanks to Joshua for the chat. Find out more about his architectural guides on the Modernism in Metro-Land website, X (Twitter), Instagram and Facebook.

Images courtesy of Joshua Abbott

Posted by Julia

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