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Berthold Lubetkin

(1901—1990) architect


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(1901–90).

Russian-born, he was the most influential Socialist architectural immigrant to Britain in the 1930s, bringing International Modernism with him. He studied in Russia in the 1920s, then in Berlin and Warsaw, and finally with Perret in Paris (1925–7). He worked with Jean Ernest Ginsberg (1905–83) in Paris (1927–30), where the apartment-block at 25 Avenue de Versailles, with its aggressive horizontal bands of windows, attracted hostility. Nevertheless, it was the prototype of Lubetkin's style in the 1930s.

He settled in London in 1931, and in 1932 became senior partner of Tecton, a firm composed of former Architectural Association students. A founder-member of the MARS Group, he was also involved with CIAM. In 1932–3 Tecton built the Gorilla House, London Zoo, followed by the elegant Penguin Pool with its spiral concrete ramps designed in conjunction with Ove Arup (1934). Other Zoo buildings at Whipsnade, Beds. (1933–6), and Dudley, Staffs. (1936–7), followed. The influential apartment-block, again designed with Arup, Highpoint I (1933–5), Highgate, London, was a paradigm for similar developments, followed by Highpoint II (1936–8), which, with elevations of patterns of brick, glass, and tile, suggested Tecton realized the white-painted flat surfaces of the International Modernist style were unsuited to London. The entrance-canopy seemed to be supported by a cast of one of the caryatids from the Erechtheion in Athens, which some saw as a witty reference to Classicism, but to others was either a vulgar manifestation of Kitsch or a betrayal of Modernism.

Tecton's most celebrated building of the period was the Finsbury Health Centre, London (1935–8), an axially planned building that was widely photographed in a way that disguised its very small size. Both the Priory Green (1937–51) and Spa Green (1938–46) Estates in London were early paradigmatic slab-blocks. In 1948 Lubetkin was appointed Chief Architect to Peterlee New Town Development Corporation, Co. Durham, but his ideas for a high-density development were not realized and he resigned in 1950.

Architectural Association, viii/3 (1976), 40–50;Allan (1992);Allan et al. (2002);Coe&Reading (1981);Kalman (1994);Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004);Reading & Coe (1992);Jane Turner (1996);van Vynckt (ed.) (1993)

Subjects: Architecture.


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