Modernism in London: Highpoint, Highgate

Like Hampstead, its slightly larger twin across the heath, Highgate seems to have been transported from the Cotswolds and dropped into the middle of north London. The village, and it really does feel like one, is made up of georgian villas, rows of elegant Victorian terraces and several modernist blocks, the best of which is Highpoint. As an example of urban(ish) living it really takes some beating.

Highpoint is made up of two blocks (‘1’ built 1933-35, ‘2’ 1936-38), both designed by the architect Berthold Lubetkin, a Russian emigre who arrived in England during 1931. An enthusiastic disciple of Le Corbusier, Lubetkin designed other buildings infused with the French architect’s modernist philosophy, like the Genesta Road terrace in Plumstead and my local doctor’s surgery, the Finsbury Health Centre. Influential these structures may be, but they cannot match the timeless, white-painted simplicity of Highpoint.

Like the Lawn Road flats in Hampstead I wrote about a few weeks ago, Highpoint benefits from a stunning location (the highest point in London, hence the name) and a high percentage of painfully tasteful tenants who pretty much define the “smug metropolitan elite” tag. According to one resident, St Etienne’s Bob Stanley, the block…

comes into its own in summer. Lubetkin based the layout on nearby Kenwood country house, and the building looks most spectacular when seen from the sloping lawns. The swimming pool is always busy on sunny weekends — it’s your chance to meet your neighbour’s Russian cousins you’ve heard so much about — while the tennis courts are used by octogenarians who look so fit you feel ashamed to take them on. Lubetkin was obsessed with blurring indoors and outdoors; each flat is heated from the ceiling to give the impression of the sun beaming down. The sense of community is heightened by the building’s bi-plane layout, which means the flats overlook each other.

However, not everything Lubetkin designed was as elegant and livable as Highpoint. This block in Bethnal Green in the East End looks like the sort of place you’d want to throw yourself off rather than live in.

However, if you do want go and see Highgpoint – and have a run-in with one of the residents for taking pictures without permission – you’ll find it here.


  1. Anonymous4:39 pm

    Wonderful building - but the resident caretaker/security guard didn't like me taking pictures. Fortunately, by the time he challenged me, it was too late. (9 December)


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