This post was first published by The Croydon Citizen on 02/07/2018.
Croydon’s architecture: the beautiful and the damned
Ah, Croydon. Where else can such a wonderful collection of post-war architecture be found in such a compact area? Right out of East Croydon train station, the 50p (or threepenny bit, as it was known in a previous life) building presides over the area in all its hexagonal glory. Or maybe it’s octagonal. It’s definitely polygonal, anyway. Surely it’ll be one day reinvented as luxury flats? Appropriately, its real name is No. 1 Croydon. Its neighbour, the site formerly known as the Royal Mail sorting office – you know the one, that big grey squat square elephant of an office block, all boarded up and desolate – might eventually be demolished and be replaced by flats and retail units. It’s probable that nobody will mourn its reinvention, but what beautiful loft-like living it would make!
A slow amble down the road and a right turn, and there’s more polygonal fun at Apollo House on Wellesley Road. What is that tiny three-storey extension on the side of the building? Tethered as it is to the main tower block, it looks a bit like a doll’s house or a life raft. Both Apollo House and Lunar House were built in 1970, but they mix the angular geometry of the Sixties with Fifties elegance. The roof at the back of Lunar House, in particular, has the poetry of flight of fancy. Isn’t it somewhat ironic that two structures built in the glow of the Space Race house Her Majesty’s Immigration Service?
Another post-war fixture on the Croydon skyline, of course, is the Nestlé tower (or St George’s House, to give it its proper name). Now this has been given planning permission for a change of use from office to residential, and it looks like this is inching its way towards becoming a reality, eventually, at some point, one day. It’ll look different (sketches show three towers instead of just one), but it’ll create inner-city accommodation… Until then, I’ll enjoy its unremitting brutalism, most effective against a stormy leaden winter sky.
I’ll even look at St George’s Walk through a rose-coloured lens, rundown as it is. Sure, it shows its age (it was built in 1964). It’s uncared for, decrepit and derelict, despite the valiant efforts of a smattering of small businesses (special mention to the fabrics and haberdashery shop near the Park Lane entrance). But the office buildings that surround the area are fine examples of hypnotic geometry enlivened by textural flourishes. The soothing repetitiveness of their facades makes for a perfect backdrop to the vitality and spiritedness of the street art that has been enlivening the area for the past few years. Still, the whole area is due for regeneration, and no doubt the new builds will serve Croydon better…
Hopefully, the little architectural details that have been stamped all over Croydon by a couple of iconic decades will still be there for everyone to enjoy, if they are so inclined: the geometric poetry of the white concrete angular thingummies (possibly not the right technical term) that wrap around the Lloyds by East Croydon Station, the window panels above Barclays Bank, the elegant typography of Fairfield Hall, and how cute are those tiny balconies on Ellis House, and what about Corinthian House, all wings and V-shapes from top to bottom? Not forgetting the colourful tiling in pedestrian subways, and all those details I haven’t noticed yet… Sure, most of Croydon’s mid-century architecture is of the garden-variety type that goes unnoticed by most, an unobtrusive background to the day, but it is nonetheless appreciated by some of us (surely I’m not alone?).
Croydon: like Milton Keynes, but more beautifully shambolic.