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Isokon returns to former glory

After decades of neglect, Wells Coates' Isokon building has a new lease of life, following the completion of an extensive renovation by Avanti Architects.

The Grade I-listed building in London's Belsize Park - known in its heyday as Lawn Road Flats and occupied by Walter Gropius, Agatha Christie and Barbara Hepworth among others - is now under the stewardship of Notting Hill Housing Trust.

The idealistic ethos behind the original 1930s design - intended as a social and cultural experiment in minimalist modern urban living - carries through, with 25 of the 36 flats designated for shared ownership by key workers. The remaining 11 will be sold on the open market.

Avanti's credits in Modernist restoration include Lubetkin's Penguin Pool at London Zoo, Goldfinger's 2 Willow Road and Patrick Gwynne's Homewood.

When Avanti Architects won a competition in 2001 to bring the Isokon apartment block back into use, it had suffered years of neglect and stood uninhabited.

Remedial work to restore the structural integrity of the building involved repairs to the concrete fabric, the replacement of the asphalt, waterproofing and an upgrading of the insulation. Grit blasting was used to remove layers of paint and cement before the original smooth cast-concrete face was reapplied.

The conservation has kept the original internal layout of the apartments, with only minor alterations to allow for modernised kitchens, heating and other services. Separating walls have been acoustically upgraded and internal partitions have been replaced with metal stud and plasterboard. Wall, ceiling and floor finishes were renewed and light metalwork elements and fitted joinery were refurbished. All the surviving original plywood fittings have been carefully stored and have been reinstated where possible.

Most of the flats were refurbished with like-for-like material, but a single flat - number 15, owned by Walter Gropius - has been renovated with original fittings to serve as an historical record. The former garage space will be taken over by the Isokon Trust to house a permanent exhibition on the history of the building and the radical ideas behind it.

HISTORY OF A LANDMARK Oct 1933 Construction of Lawn Road Flats begins July 1934 Completion and formal opening November 1937 Isobar opens, the ground-floor restaurant frequented by the flats' famous residents January 1969 Lawn Road Flats sold to the New Statesman 1970 Planning application to convert Isobar into three flats 1972 Sold to Camden and renamed Isokon Flats May 1974 Listed Grade II 1999 Listed Grade I 2000 Camden seeks competitive bids to restore the apartment building February 2001 Avanti Architects/Notting Hill Housing Trust team wins competition May 2003 Restoration work begins 28 February 2004 Eleven private flats go on sale through FPD Savills.

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