A Towering Legacy; Property

By Markosky, Cheryl | The Mail on Sunday (London, England), October 13, 2002 | Go to article overview

A Towering Legacy; Property


Markosky, Cheryl, The Mail on Sunday (London, England)


Byline: CHERYL MARKOSKY

A towering legacy Who would ever imagine that the man who built one of London's most controversial and often reviled modernist buildings - the stark concrete Barbican - would set off at the end of his working day to a pretty 18th Century pink cottage down a country lane?

Ponies still graze in meadows and the Thames laps at a small quayside at the end of River Lane in Petersham, where Geoffry Powell's Grade II listed Glen Cottage sits like something out of an Enid Blyton book.

You half expect rosy-cheeked children to tumble out of the white-painted door to frolic merrily among the apple and pear trees in the charming garden.

There must be a contented mother baking up a storm in the rustic kitchen, with tiles from an old French farmhouse and the original sash windows and shutters.

It is hard to believe that Powell, the father in this idyllic family scene, dedicated 30 years of his life from 1952 to 1982 to constructing a bold new post-war housing estate and arts centre in the City of London.

Powell first won a contest to design the Golden Lane housing estate next to the Barbican, but then his company - Chamberlin, Powell & Bon - continued to work for the Corporation of London, constructing one of the most famous projects of the 20th Century.

Following Powell's death two years ago, his family is now selling his fairytale hideaway, as far removed as is possible from the concrete structure inspired by the work of the French brutalist Le Corbusier.

His son George, 35, a linguistics academic, and daughters Antonia, a 47-year-old surveyor, and Polly, 43, who publishes books on buildings, feel it is time to part with their muchbeloved childhood home in Petersham.

'I spent the first 22 years of my life here,' says George, 'and it was a brilliant place to grow up. Glen Cottage is the sort of house a child would draw.

We were near the water and loved playing at the dairy farm up the road.

It is pretty rural, but still near the city.' Another great attraction is a private tennis court tucked away, which is for the exclusive use of the residents of River Lane. Neighbour Chris Brasher, founder of the London Marathon, managed to buy it for those who live in the street which Tommy Steele once called home.

So, did one of the key architects of avant-garde modernism in post-war Britain ever get his leg pulled for having a day job that was so far removed from his private world?

'Yes, people did mention that the styles were somewhat different,' replies George, with careful understatement, adding that it was a bit difficult for his father on occasions, when those who did not quite take to the Barbican's contemporary aesthetics derided the project.

'My mother loved going to the theatre,' he says, 'and once they were at the Barbican and overheard someone complaining about the place, saying how hard it was to find your way around. This did upset my father. …

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