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Tony Wilson assesses the building conversion on site now at Hopewell Yard

David Quigley comes from the stable of post-modern architects who do not believe that the back of a building should necessarily look particularly like the front. If the sides are different, then why not? Why not mix styles and motifs in glorious abandon? This could be argued to be typically British. Did not our squires tack elegant Palladian bits and pieces onto dumpy Tudor houses? Is not the Walworth Road a jumble of Victorian shopfronts with mass-produced classical decoration stuck onto plain Georgian fašades?

Quigley worked for Terry Farrell whose most startling building is Embankment Place that rises above Charing Cross station, a vast palace which looks like a cross between an armadillo and a space rocket. He also worked for Robert Venturi who undertook the National Gallery. This starts as a Manhattan atrium, continues in neo-classical but is chopped off at the knees. At the back it becomes Battersea Power Station.

Hopewell Yard hardly enjoys such a prestigious site, hemmed in by council estates of the Brave New World era of knock down everything in sight. There were a few buildings left from use as a Victorian omnibus [sic] terminus. The site had only rights of light on Hopewell Street, making it an even less attractive proposition. Most developers would have passed it by. But these developers have acted throughout contrary to received opinion. It was decided to mix flats, maisonettes, houses and businesses.


There has been for the past decade or two a rigorous predilection among developers and planners towards zone shopping and commercial ghettos that have sucked life out of so many areas of London. Quigley likes his architecture to be called Continental. He aspires to that love of urban life that animates the Europeans, so different from the English who tend to pretend that they live in Green Wellyshire. The name 'Yard' offers an urban, industrial note. Other developers would have called it Sandringham Court.


The flats and houses have no gardens; Nature is represented by three trees. It is a modern axiom of development to pretend that nobody has cars. One can even see advertisements for modern neo-Georgian developments with carriages in the drive. Cars are not hidden away at Hopewell Yard in gloomy underground muggers lairs. The sleek beasts are parked in the central courtyard. The coming and going adds to the bustle and sociability of the community. It does not look like an old parking lot because of the bold diagonal patterning of the cobbles.

Hopewell Yard represents recent trends in architecture. Patterns and colour have been allowed to us after the long years of Le Corbusier-Stalinism, of pockmarked concrete and damp stains. The City is entering a new Jazz Age of polished granite, curves, bows, twiddles, columns, even rustication. The heresy has reappeared that buildings might just be fun. Such a site in Camberwell could not expect the full glitz of one in the Square Mile but, with brick pattering and a render of seashells set in resin to reflect the light.

Quigley has achieved a riot of decoration. He has called it 'urban wall paper ~' a phrase that does himself less than justice as much of the effect is created by shapes. The staircases, for example, jut out slightly in a V shape. This added to very simple patterning makes the open stairwells, often so dismal, into interestlng features. There are corniches obviously of Egyptian origin. The V-shaped motif resembles a stylised, pared down Ancient Egyptian sarcophagus. Quigley admits only to Egyptian influences absorbed through 1920s Art Deco.

Asymmetry is back after the long straight regular years, nowhere more straight and regular than in the relentless march of the housing blocks from the Elephant and Castle. At Hopewell it is a very subtle assymetry. There is asymmetry within symmetry.

In its bravura eclecticism Hopewell Yard recalls that of its near neighbour, the National Westminster Bank on Camberwell Green, also built by an architect not afraid to mix styles and colours. On its actual site it looks like an exotic outsider. The developer tried to soften the contrast by offering to plant trees on the bare wasteland next door. The Council replied with bureaucratic obfuscation about roots and foundations. That hiccup has not prevented all the units selling out quickly which is a remarkable achievement in these hard times.


G E Wallis & Sons Ltd; Sam Sherman (yard manager); John Harvard Library Southwark; J C Humphrey, Southwark & Lambeth Archaeological Unit; Kevin Wooldridge, Guildhall Library; the late Bet Parker (GLIAS); Florrie, occupant of 25a Hopewell Street in 1982, lifelong resident in the neighbourhood. Members of GLIAS Recording Group 1982: Geoff Bowles, Louise Brodie, A Bullivant, Bob Carr, Mick Marr, Peter Skilton, David Thomas, Ruth Verrall, Diana Willment, Youla Yates and other GLIAS members.

(First published in the Camberwell Quarterly 1991, Camberwell Society)

© GLIAS, 2000