CourtyardSlab, corridorSlab, gallery-accessSlab, point-access
Pullman Court
Gibberd, Frederick | London, Great Britain | 1935
Image of Pullman ...
Court facade

ProjectPullman Court
ArchitectGibberd, Frederick
CountryGreat Britain
AddressStreatham Hill (SW2 (at the top of the hill)
Building TypeCourtyard
Slab, gallery access
Slab, point-access
Number of Dwellings218
Date Built1935
Dwelling Typesstudio, 1,2 BR flats
No. Floors3, 5 & 7
Section Typeflats, point and gallery access
Exterior Finish
concrete, steel, glass
Construction TypeRC frame, concrete walls
Ancillary Servicesswimming pool. community spaces, roof terraces, garages

Frederick Gibberd is probably best known for his design of Liverpool Cathedral, his work and books about town planning, and his role as the chief architect/planner of Harlow New Town. He also designed several interesting housing projects in London in the 1930’s. One of these projects, Pullman Court, is an example of International Style architecture in London in the period just before WWII. The developer, William Bernstein, was interested in building efficiency flats for young single professionals on a beautiful open site at the top of Streatham Hill. Bernstein wanted a young architect for the project and gave Gibberd, then 23 years old and one year out of school, the freedom to design in the new style. The name Pullman seems to be a reference to the legendary quality of deluxe railway cars of the same name, and Court, a reference to the courtyard organization of the design. Pullman Court is one of a group of similar modernist housing projects built in London during this period including Highpoint I & II, by Bertold Lubetkin & Tecton, 1935-38, Dorset House (actually an Art Deco building), by T.P. Bennett and Joseph Emberton, 1935, and the Isokon Apartments by Wells Coates and Marcel Breuer, 1933. Two years later, Gibberd co-authored The Modern Flat, with FRS Yorke, a book about the new residential style that featured these buildings.

Pullman is a complex of several different residential building types organized around two interior courtyards along the long E-W axis of the site. The buildings are set back from the street along the lower edge of the site where there was an existing stand of trees. These building types include 3-story point-access slabs, two 5- story gallery-access slabs, and two7-story connected point-access towers. The group steps in height from the 3-story elements which define an entrance area to the two 5-story gallery access slabs that form a long interior garden that ends with two point-access 5 story, ell-shaped blocks that define a rectangular landscaped garden and a swimming pool. Finally, this court sequence ends with the cruciform towers that form a 7-story wall that terminates the center axis. Passage through the court spaces begins with an approach to the planer surface of the 3-story elements, through the long narrow landscaped court defined by the parallel gallery slabs, through another narrowed passage formed by the 5-story ell’s and into the upper court which spreads laterally to the sides of the site. Both pedestrians and vehicles use this center passage and there are also walks along the outside edges. There are some garages at the sides of the upper garden area.

Access galleries are located along the north or west sides of the long slabs so that the living spaces of the apartments open to balconies facing the garden areas wherever possible. The garden facades are detailed as smooth painted concrete walls that are extensively glazed with flush steel casement windows, and cantilevered balconies. Altogether, there are 218 studio, one and two bedroom flats. The structure is a reinforced concrete frame and the exterior walls are made of 4-inch thick reinforced concrete walls that were poured with fiberboard forms to give a very smooth finish, and lined with 1-inch cork for insulation. To maintain the pristine white finish of the walls, they were to be painted every 5 years and the continuous steel railing at the top of the wall is a support for the carriage that is used for this purpose. Originally, some of the exterior walls were painted in different bright colors: browns and pinks on the blocks along the street, blues and greys on the rear blocks. The original plan for small flats for singles was modified to include some housing for families. Pullman Court incorporated many technological innovations in addition to the poured panel construction including central boiler heating and hot water, built-in closets, cupboards, custom Best and Lloyd lighting fixtures, streamlined kitchens, and sliding wood panels between bedrooms and living rooms to allow for the flexible use of space. Gibberd designed special furniture that fit the scale of the apartments that tenants could purchase. In addition to the roof terraces, there was a swimming pool, a restaurant and a social room for the residents.

Lubetkin’s Highpoint I & II were also under construction during the time that Pullman was being built. Besides the obvious sharing of modernist imagery and detail, both projects used the connected cruciform towers to economize on the use of stairs and elevators and eliminate the stark end facades typical of most zeilenbau applications of the slab buildings of much housing of the 1920’s and ‘30’s. The concept of connecting towers to form a continuous building type reappears again in the 1960’s as an alternative to corridor residential types. Of the small group of apartment buildings that were built in the 1930’s in London under the influence of earlier European housing precedents, Pullman Court is certainly one of the most interesting and provocative case studies because of the novel concept of flats for singles, the combination of different housing typologies and heights, for the innovative construction system, and the courtyard site organization.

American Architect, Feb. 1937, pp. 29-42.

Architects' Journal, Aug 6, 1936, pp. 79-85.

Architectural Review, Jan. 1936, pp. 28-30; 41-44.

Colquhoun, Ian, RIBA Book of 20th Century British Housing, Butterfield-Heinemann, Oxford, 1999, pp. 103-4.

Gibbert, Frederick & F.R.S. Yorke, The Modern Flat. The Architectural Press, London, 1937, pp. 46-51.

Jones, Edward & Christopher Woodward, A Guide to The Architecture of London, Van Nostrand Reinhold, N.Y., 1983, pp. 387.

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