‘Modern Buildings’ tours south-east London through a guide to post-war Blackheath and Greenwich

‘Modern Buildings: Blackheath and Greenwich’ is a detailed survey of a London borough’s rich trove of new modernist architecture

'Modern Buildings' book featuring 11 Westgrove Lane, by Leo Rubinstein and Michael Hohmann
(Image credit: Pierce Scourfield)

At first glance, Ana Francisco Sutherland’s Modern Buildings: Blackheath and Greenwich might seem to be very tightly focused. The monograph, looking at the post-war architecture of a single south London borough, might feel a bit niche, but as Sutherland’s book reveals, this became a focal point of an incredibly rich era of modern design.

Modern Buildings: Blackheath and Greenwich, London 1950–2000

'Modern Buildings: Blackheath and Greenwich', 1950-2000, Ana Francisco Sutherland, Park Books, CHF39, Park-Books.com, also available from Amazon

(Image credit: Park Books)

Explore ‘Modern Buildings: Blackheath and Greenwich’

For various reasons explored in the book, Blackheath and Greenwich became a petri dish of quiet innovation. With the capital in desperate need of new housing, the run-down grand villas and estates in south-east London offered up the requisite space for expansion. Many of the larger sites were taken on by firms like Span, set up by developer Leslie Bilsby in collaboration with the architect Eric Lyons.

Spangate, Eric Lyons

Spangate, inner courtyard and communal garden

(Image credit: Pierce Scourfield. © Eric Lyons)

Span’s impressive output is one of the core focuses of Modern Buildings. The company built modestly but sensitively, with high levels of quality and great consideration for preserving open space, communal gardens and a sense of community. Span houses were – and still are – highly desirable, a club of sorts for progressive, liberal types who wanted an architectural framework to match their ideals.

Vanbrugh Park Estate, by Chamberlin, Powell & Bon

Vanbrugh Park Estate, the central core and access walkways of the tower

(Image credit: Pierce Scourfield. © Chamberlin, Powell & Bon)

New housing in Blackheath and Greenwich wasn’t just about estates. The book delves into the numerous single-family houses, small terraces and compact blocks of flats that were built during the period. It includes work by architects like Pierre d’Avoine, Royston Summers, Trevor Dannatt, James Gowan and Allies and Morrison, and many more, combining potted biographies with original photography and – crucially – selected site plans and floorplans.

20 Blackheath Park by Peter Moro

20 Blackheath Park, the open-plan split-level living spaces

(Image credit: Pierce Scourfield. © Peter Moro)

Sutherland, whose studio Francisco Sutherland Architects has worked on several projects in the area, has brought together a huge volume of research. Sixty-four buildings and 38 architects are included, presented in an elegantly functional and era-appropriate layout by Studio Blackburn.

The book includes a map and walking routes (we suggest combining the book with Things You Can Buy’s Perambulations maps), making it a very welcome addition to the canon of British architectural guidebooks.

35a Hyde Vale apartments by Robin Simpson

35a Hyde Vale, front elevation with entrance gap

(Image credit: Pierce Scourfield. © Robin Simpson)

'Modern Buildings: Blackheath and Greenwich', 1950-2000, Ana Francisco Sutherland, Park Books, CHF 39, Park-Books.com, also available from Amazon

Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.