The Bauhaus in London

The wonderful Isokon flats

On 12 July 1934, an extraordinary new building appeared in north London. Alighting like a white gull among the squat brick terraces of South Hampstead, the Isokon building sprang straight from the Bauhaus. Three Long white balconies converged on a glass-sided tower; within, the furniture was curvaceously streamlined in a way that has now become iconic but seemed, back then, outrageous. Walter Gropius and Moholo-Nagy were among the early residents. Here, in the Isokon, back in the Thirties, the best of modern Germany stood defiant, joyful and utterly at odds with its dour surroundings.

Back in the first years that I saw it, the Isokon had been reduced to a shadow of its former self. Abandoned during the War, it was allowed to become derelict. Litter piled against its cracked balconies; birds flew wild in the tower. It seemed, back in the 1980s, as though an unloved and neglected masterpiece was doomed to disappear. At one moment, there was talk of a carpark being built over the site.

This week, on 12 July, the Isokon reopens its doors as a Grade 1 listed building: one of the most remarkable in London. Notting Hill Developments, working with Avanti Architects and Skandia have, with the support of Camden Council and some generous input from the National Trust, recreated the 1930s masterpiece as it looked in its first days. A book has been written to commemorate the project and a brand new gallery, open every weekend through the year, charts the history of the building and its flamboyant inhabitants.  (One, for a while, was Dame Agatha Christie.)

In this summer of 2014, a terrible war is being recalled and replayed.  Relentlessly, the media focusses all attention upon a tragic past. The focus is always upon hostility. The magificent restoration of the Isokon should help to remind us that there are other facets to the story of our long, significant, enriching relationship with Germany.

   Added: Wednesday 09 July 2014