London County Council ,1964London School of Printing and Graphic Arts
|Materials||aluminium, mosaic, steel|
|AKA||London College of Printing, London College of Communication|
The London College of Printing or the ‘London College of Communication’ as it has since been renamed occupies an important part of the 1960s masterplan of the Elephant and Castle. Built by the LCC, it is crucial in holding up one side of the massive northern traffic roundabout, responding to the bleak space in an appropriate scale and with sensitive massing. It is a straightforward and useful building. It continues to be used in the role for which it was designed.
The college is part of various redrawn proposals to create a landmark piece of central planning and architecture following the devastation of the Second World War. Around one third of the Elephant and Castle’s building stock was lost and there emerged several plans to rebuild in a comprehensive manner and re-create the famous, ‘Piccadilly Circus of the South.’ The first scheme appeared in Abercrombies’s County of London Plan of 1943. He envisaged the Elephant as a gateway to London from the south. An early sketch shows a vast traffic roundabout framed by rather Stalinist structures creating a new and mixed commercial district around a new road system.
Following the war, the recommendations of the Abercrombie plan were taken up by the London County Council in 1947, with the Ministry of Transport, and in 1951 an updated plan around two roundabouts emerged. In this plan the college site or ‘Site 5’ as it became known is shown as a fairly non-descript commercial parade of 6 storeys. A further revision of 1956, overseen by Leslie Martin, maintained a street-line approach matching the established height of the neighbouring Metropolitan Tabernacle, but gave the commercial spaces over to a college of print. Its original site was towards the southern end of the scheme where the Draper Estate now stands. The decision to move the college was made to speed up development elsewhere and to provide an incentive to developers at the undeveloped northern end.
Two years later in 1958, a looser development plan by the LCC’s Hubert Bennett emerged characterised by towers. It is from this that a final design for the London College of Print was drawn.
The revised design broke away from the street line and is made up of three components placed in depth of the triangular site. Adjoining the Tabernacle is a large 4-storey workshop block that forms a continuous building frontage along the west side of Newington Butts, while at the roundabout a 2-storey podium sits at 45 degrees to the road topped with a 13 storey administrative and teaching block. Although the overall effect of the lightweight aluminium and glass tower is rather plain, closer inspection reveals a great deal of sensitive and original detailing elsewhere. The lower blocks are clad in pale mosaic tiles for almost their entirety, while back on Newington Butts an articulated emergency staircase is integrated into the façade adjoining the Tabernacle. This provides welcome relief from the horizontal bands of the windows and provides a transition between the floors. To the rear of the block an open stairwell at another corner forms a handsome, almost defensive, feature with the flights emphasised externally via diagonal openings in its wall. To the back of the podium block yet another emergency staircase is turned to architectural effect, this time employing a simple, but elegant cantilever in concrete.
In 1998 Allies and Morrison were appointed to consolidate and regenerate the college. They provided two new buildings: a specialist studio/workshop block and a new 'Street' building, which provides a contemporary new entrance at the roadside forecourt. This work was completed in 2004 and complements the existing form of the 1964 buildings well. The forecourt is well used by students and forms an informal and welcome gathering place. However, the original buildings are showing very obvious signs of neglect next to this new addition.
In 2004, a masterplan for the redevelopment of the Elephant and Castle was finally agreed after several revisions. Headed by Southwark Council and Ken Shuttleworth’s MAKE architects, the massive scheme will see the re-organisation of the road system and the demolition of the 1960s shopping centre opposite and the nearby Heygate Estate. The London College of Communication is well placed to take advantage of the scheme. As a place of education and a creative force in the area it adds significantly to the desired mix that both the council and developers look to encourage. In time it will be part of a vibrant new quarter, overlooking a proposed ‘Civic Square.’ One hopes that eventually the somewhat tawdry appearance of 1960s buildings will be subject to a simple facelift and the tower refitted to address this new space with some confidence.