Welcome to Corringham

 

The design

General layout

Corringham is a purpose-built apartment block, built privately in 1962-64 in an elegant minimalist style. The Grade II listed building has eight floors with six apartments each, an underground parking garage for residents and a beautiful private communal garden. Eighteen of the apartments - all on the lower three floors - have one bedroom each; the remaining thirty flats have two bedrooms. The extra space needed to accommodate these extra bedrooms is realised by an "overhang" at the back of the building. Each apartment has an east-facing balcony overlooking the garden and London's West End.

The mirrored front

The back of Corringham

The service column

The minimalist exterior

The exterior of the block is elegant and simple, of a modernist style with references to Le Corbusier. As an application of Mies von der Rohe's idea that "less is more", pure geometrical forms and lines are emphasized, and the three main building materials are easily identified as concrete, metal and glass. The horizontal concrete floor slabs are emphasized with white paint, and the vertical concrete elements - side walls and divisions between apartments - are coloured grey to indicate their different function. The use of strong metal window frames allows for a slender frame design and large windows, which increases the visual transparency of the block. The mirror-backed glass panels under the windows deliberately reflect the sky and surrounding buildings, making the block look relatively small and light. This was meant to achieve a modest architecture and to respect as much as possible the character and scale of the traditional London town terrace opposite. Kenneth Frampton says that the mass of the building owes to the ideas of Atelier 5 in Switzerland, contemporaries whose work was well respected for its logical proportions and humane planning.

The back of the building is equally minimalist, but it is enlivened and opened up by the subtle rhythm of inset balconies and by the contrasting black railings.

The carefully detailed service column at the northern side of Corringham was given a very different architectural treatment. The powerful vertical emphasis of the lift shaft, stair well and boiler flue gave Corringham a reputation as one of the first major buildings in the sculptural "brutalist" style in Central London. Its design refers to the architecture of James Stirling and to the practice of Lyons, Israel and Ellis, the "birthplace of true brutalism in Britain". The deliberately visible incorporation of the rubbish chute and extractor fans is an application of Le Corbusier's idea that a house is a "machine for living in". Clearly "form follows function" here - as professed by the American architect Louis Sullivan, sometimes called the father of modernism. The design of a separate service column is used in a more extreme form in Ernö Goldfinger's Balfron Tower nearby.

The service column reveals some of the internal complexity of the building through its floor-to-ceiling windows. There is only one landing for every two floors - as Corringham is one of the few buildings in the world constructed with the elegant split-level "scissor design".

Scissor design

The architect of the building, Kenneth Frampton of Douglas Stephen & Partners, was confronted with high land costs and strict planning restrictions. The height and depth of the block had to match the outline of the Edwardian buildings that once stood on the same site. To observe these restrictions and still fit 48 apartments in the block Kenneth Frampton used the then practically new scissor design in which each up-going flat interlocks with its down-going neighbour. This design reduces the number of corridors required - there are only five to service all eight floors - and allows for a more compact construction without compromising the size of the apartments.

An added advantage of this scissor design is that all living rooms are at the western side of the block, receiving direct sunlight in the afternoon. The bedrooms are all at the opposite, quieter side, overlooking the communal garden to the east, so that residents wake up with sunlight on their pillows. This layout of the block maximises the light and natural ventilation in each flat, while the noise cross-over from living rooms to bedrooms is minimized. The split-level layout of the apartments increases the feeling of spaciousness.

Diagram of the scissor design

The scissor design originates from the London County Council's Architects' Department, where it was first researched in 1955-56 under direction of David Gregory-Jones. It was tried out in the early sixties in the Tidey Street scheme in Poplar and in some blocks in the Pepys Estate in Deptford (redeveloped in 2005), but the scissor design was not widely adopted. It was first published in The Architect's Journal in 1962, when Corringham had already been designed. It is likely that Kenneth Frampton heard of the scissor design via Douglas Stephen's wife Margaret Dent, who worked at the London County Council Architects' Department in the 1950s.

Corringham's scissor design was mentioned in the DAE Technical Bulletin, issued by National Energy Services Ltd in April 2009. Corringham's layout is described as "a more complex example" of scissor design. Fortunately the method for determining the Heat Loss Perimeter, as discussed in the article, works even in this "hardest situation"!

In 2011 Corringham's scissor design was again discussed in the fourth edition of the magazine Delft Architectural Studies on Housing (DASH). DASH 4 focuses on "The Residention Floor Plan - Standard and Ideal". It discusses the origins and development of interlocking maisonettes, and describes how they resulted in extremely compact blocks with a minimum of space dedicated to access. "Efficiency through Complexity" is the fitting title of the section dedicated to Corringham and its scissor floor plan.