Architect launches campaign to save Brixton’s International House

office block
International House

The celebrated architect Kate Macintosh has launched a petition to save International House from demolition.

The former council office building was designed by her life and business partner the late George Finch.

Lambeth council recently published plans to develop both the site of International House and Pop Brixton.

Macintosh and Finch’s son, Sean Finch Macintosh, point out that Brixton Rec and International House were designed as a single project and that they share services.

The Rec was listed grade ll in 2016 after local campaigners, Rec users and architects rallied to protect it. Lambeth council had planned in 2012 to demolish both the Rec and International House.

“Regrettably,” said Macintosh, “this listing omitted the 12-storey office tower.”

She said the council has “changed its tune” since then “and give out that they value the recreation centre as a valuable asset, both architecturally and socially.

“However, though they also boasted, as recently as 2020, of their success in letting International House to architects, other creatives and start-ups, saying that this youthful community adds to the vitality of Brixton and helps market traders, they have included it as part of a ‘Central Brixton Regeneration’ for which they will seek initial bids this coming May.”

Macintosh said that this “ridiculously tight” time frame makes meaningful consultation impossible.

“To select a specific bid by September/October is a ridiculously short timetable, given the pandemic and its unknown repercussions,” she added.

She said the whole “Rec Quarter” idea had been built on the living heritage of Brixton.

International House with Pop Brixton in the foreground

The “meanwhile” use of International House and creation of Pop Brixton appeared to be a form of incremental bottom-up regeneration,” said Macintosh.

“This new proposal for wholesale redevelopment of International House and the POP Brixton site takes Lambeth back to an old development model that threatened the destruction of the Rec back in 2012 and eventually led to its protection by its listing.

“To amputate the tower would be a complex and expensive option as the services for both the listed Rec and the Tower are located below International House and three columns supporting the tower pass through this plant room.”

At a consultation meeting with stakeholder groups on the 11 February, Macintosh reported, a Lambeth council spokesperson said that it wanted to “nurture Brixton’s character”, invest in public space and provide affordable workplaces.

“International Tower does all these things,” she said. “So why do they want to destroy this integral part of the listed Rec?

“If the redevelopment claims to celebrate the Rec as a community asset, how can this be justified if it is harmed by the new development.

“Surely this is a vital opportunity to sustain and revitalise the Rec.

“The only way they could get more lettable space within the small footprint of International House would be to increase the height.

“Lambeth have already indicated their direction of travel by consenting to a 20-storey tower.”

Macintosh said that, in a film released last year by New London Architecture when International House won an award, Matthew Bennett, Lambeth council cabinet member for planning, investment and new homes, had boasted of the success of the refurbished International House.

A petition to remove International House from the “Central Brixton Redevelopment“ proposal is now online.

Kate Macintosh MBE is an acclaimed architect of public sector buildings.

She is probably best known locally for Dawson’s Heights in Southwark (sometimes known as the “battleship blocks”) and sheltered housing in Leigham Court Road, Lambeth.

She has fiercely criticised Lambeth council for its treatment of the latter.

Cllr Bennett said: “We are committed to a better and fairer Brixton. The council has a strong track record of investing in Brixton to meet the needs of the local community.

“This project continues in that vein with 240 new homes, including 50 per cent affordable housing and around 80 new council homes at a time when thousands of Brixton residents are desperately in need of social housing.

“It will also feature a new permanent space for Brixton’s businesses, including 20 per cent affordable workspace so that we secure more good local jobs at a time when unemployment in Brixton has more than doubled.

“We have an opportunity to expand Brixton’s Rec Quarter, using council land to benefit and meet the needs of local people.

“We think this conversation needs to start by looking at local need, and the hopes and aspirations of Brixton’s community, rather than bricks and mortar.

“I really look forward to a genuinely inclusive conversation over the coming months and years.”

4 COMMENTS

  1. Cllr Bennett Can say what he likes. The local community have lost all faith in a council who fancy themselves as big time property developers. Hello Hondo! After speaking to the council two weeks ago I got the impression that they were disinterested in preserving International house and lacked any strategy to find a developer with a sympathetic agenda towards refurbishment and preservation. This is vital especially as its ionic neighbour and part of the original scheme by architect George Finch is the well love and listed by Historic England Brixton Rec.

  2. An excellent study from an Arup’s senior engineer, Mell Allwood, showed that buildings up to 10 storeys, or medium-rise, are on average half as energy intensive as buildings over that height. At 11.5 storeys International House is just on that cusp. Where is the huge demand for office space when London is full of blocks 65% – 70% underoccupied, while staff work from home?

  3. Cllr Bennett looks forward to “a genuinely inclusive conversation” on this, does he?

    Well, I suppose there’s a first time for everything!

  4. What about the local needs of the businesses already using International House? It makes no sense to demolish an excellent building and release all of the carbon associated with this decision. Retrofit first!

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