A tour of the endangered Hornsey Town Hall

hornsey town hall

hornsey town hall

The Art Deco Hornsey Town Hall is a landmark building in Crounch End


Recently, the Grade II* listed 1930s Art Deco building Hornsey town hall in Crouch End has received much media attention due to Haringey council’s plans to turn part of the building into a boutique luxury hotel developed by a Hong Kong-based property and hotel developer. There has been a public outcry against this and an online petition has been set up by the Hornsey Town Hall Appreciation Society to urge the council to reconsider the decision.


hornsey town hall

hornsey town hall exterior  hornsey town hall 

hornsey town hall


The first time I passed by Crouch End on a bus en route to visit a friend who lives nearby, I was struck by this remarkable modernist building, and I was eager to find out more about it.

Designed by New Zealand born architect Reginald Uren in 1933-5 after winning the competition to design the new town hall, the building was influenced by the striking Hilversum town hall designed by Willem Marinus Dudok in the Netherlands built between 1928-31. The building was awarded a bronze medal for the best London building upon its completion by the Royal Institute of British Architects, and it served as Hornsey Borough Council’s headquarters until 1966.

After Hornsey, Tottenham and Wood Green Councils merged to become Haringey Council in 1965, the Council moved its office to Wood Green, causing the building to fall into disrepair. Since 2007, the council has been working in partnership with the local Creative Trust to provide educational activities and events at the site, and it was turned into an art centre in 2014. It is also often used as the backdrop for many British films and TV.


hornsey town hall

hornsey town hall foyer

hornsey town hall model  hornsey town hall logo

hornsey town hall foyer

hornsey town hall  hornsey town hall foyer

hornsey town hall grand staircase

hornsey town hall signage  hornsey town hall art centre

hornsey town hall  hornsey town hall   hornsey town hall

hornsey town hall   hornsey town hall floor

The ground floor: 2nd, 4th & 5th right – the foyer features classic curved lighting and marble panelling, nickel plated doors and the streamlined wall/counter; 6th row: grand staircase with bespoke brass finished handrails; 7th right: Ply gallery; 8th left: cafe; last row: original wooden panels and floor tile design


One day, I found out that the town hall offers a monthly guided tour of the building, and without hesitation, I signed up for it. The 50-60 min tour of the building offers visitors a rare opportunity to see the original architectural features of the building. Although the building has not been refurbished for decades, some of its interior – like the grand staircase – still look splendid thanks to the high quality material and attention to detail craftsmanship.


hornsey town hall signage  hornsey town hall ballroom window

hornsey town hall ballroom

hornsey town hall

The Main Hall features elongated windows that allows light into the room


However, the room that is in need for restoration is the dilapidated Main Hall. Water leakage from the worn and damaged roof meant that the hall was off limits for decades. Some repair works have been done to fix the roof and the drainage system in recent years, hence we were able to visit this once-magnificent hall which features elongated windows and original curtains. Once you step inside, you can almost imagine how grand it must have looked decades back; it is a relic from a bygone era.


hornsey town hall

hornsey town hall stairs  hornsey town hall

hornsey town hall

hornsey town hall  hornsey town hall

hornsey town hall

hornsey town hall The Committee Rooms

hornsey town hall The Committee Rooms

hornsey town hall The Committee Rooms  hornsey town hall  hornsey town hall

hornsey town hall  hornsey town hall

hornsey town hall

hornsey town hall

3th-5th row: the landing area of the 1st floor; 6th-8th row: The Committee Rooms; 9th left, 10th & 11th row: The Council Chamber


Visitors can see the names of the past Mayors from the Hornsey Council once they arrive at the landing of the first floor. We first visited the bright and airy committee rooms which showcases ceiling to floor French walnut panels and windows that offer a fantastic vistas of the town square and fountain. Then we were lead to the stunning Council Chamber with crescentiform seating and French-polished panels. Again, there are ceiling to floor windows and roof windows that provide maximum light from outside.

I wandered and lingered for longer after the tour because I was quite mesmerised by this marvelous but rather understated building. I also like the fact that it has not been fully refurbished, which reveals the original designs and authentic state. Like the locals, conservationists and other modernist architecture fans, I would hate to see this historical architectural gem being turned into a luxury boutique hotel. Please sign the petition to help and stop this from becoming a reality. We were able to save Smithfield market before, so let’s try to stop this, too.


former hornsey gas company showrooms

Arthur Ayres panels

Arthur Ayres panels

The former Hornsey Gas Company showrooms (now Barclays) feature panels carved by Arthur Ayres


On the southern site of the Town Hall stands another conspicuous 1930s building due to the sculptural decorative panels on its facade created by Arthur Ayres depicting the glories of gas. The former Hornsey Gas Company showrooms were eventually converted into Barclays Bank in 1998. And on the north of the town hall, a rival electricity showroom and additional council offices were built by Reginald Uren from 1937-9.


crouch end clock tower  crouch end

crouch end clock tower

crouch end victorian buildings

crouch end victorian buildings

Crouch end’s prominent clock tower and Victorian architecture


Walking around the centre of the bustling Crouch End today, one can still appreciate its village-like setting and vibe. Its landmark is a red-brick clock tower erected by public subscription in 1895 honouring Henry Reader Williams (1822-97), who was the Chairman of the Hornsey Local Board for ten years. Back then, Crouch End was a prosperous middle-class suburb, but post-war social housing in the area lowered the property prices and the area was populated by students from the nearby Mountview and Hornsey Art College until the 1980s. Gentrification changed the social profile and demographics, and now it has been reverted back to a middle-class residential area.


crouch end  crouch end

The queens crouch end

The queens crouch end

crouch end  crouch end

crouch end art house

crouch end picture house

Top left, 2nd & 3rd row: The Queens (formerly known as the Queens Hotel) is a Grade II* listed public house was built in 1899–1901 by the architect and developer John Cathles Hill. 5th row: Art House cinema; 6th row: Picturehouse cinema


Aside from Hornsey Town Hall, there are some other notable architectural gems here like the beautiful Grade II* listed The Queens; the unconventional ArtHouse cinema (a former Salvation Army Hall), and another Grade II* listed modernist Hornsey Library built in 1965 by F.Ley & G.F.S. Jarvis.




Jeff Koons at Newport Street Gallery

newport street gallery


Ok, I am not a fan of Jeff Koons nor Damien Hirst, so what was I doing at Hirst‘s art gallery for Koons’ Now exhibition? One reason: architecture. This month, Newport Street Gallery in Vauxhall was named as the winner of this year’s Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) Stirling Prize for the UK’s best new building.

The 37,000 sq ft gallery facing the railway line is made up of almost an entire street of listed Victorian industrial buildings, and they were converted into one new building by the architecture firm Caruso St John. Interestingly, I took the train out of London a few months ago, and from the train window, I could see the striking red brick building with the spiky saw-tooth roof which intrigued me immensely.


newport street gallery  newport street gallery

newport street gallery


The quiet location of this gallery makes it rather special. The area hasn’t been too gentrified (yet), and the nearby Vauxhall pleasure gardens offers some historical context of the area from the mid-17th century onwards.


newport street gallery  newport street gallery

newport street gallery  newport street gallery

The spiral staircases at the gallery


As soon as I entered the building, I was immediately impressed by the bright and spacious white space. The simple and minimalist interior reminds me of John Pawson‘s work; so it would be interesting to see how he has converted the former Commonwealth Institute into the new Design museum when it opens next month.

The stunning spiral staircases on each side of the five interconnected buildings are probably highlights of the building, and they are certainly very ‘instagrammable!’


jeff koons ablloon monkey  jeff koons acrobat

jeff koons

jeff koons Jim Beam - J.B. Turner train  jeff koons 3 ball 50/50 tank

jeff koons Play-Doh

Jeff Koons: Now exhibition – Top left: Balloon Monkey; Top right: Acrobat; 4th left:  Jim Beam – J.B. Turner train; 4th right: Three ball 50/50 tank; Bottom row: Play-Doh


Architecture aside, what about the art? Well, I tried to keep an open mind before the visit, but I have to admit that Koons‘ work did nothing for me. His earlier Marcel Duchamp-inspired installations are shallow and banal, and his signature inflatable objects just look kitsch and rather outdated… a bit like Hirst‘s work. If the two artists were to launch their careers today, I doubt they would have had so much success. We are now living in a different era, and their shock tactics are unlikely to cause as much controversial as they did back in the 1980s/90s. The reason why I am not keen on contemporary art (especially from the 90s) is because I find most of the work cold, calculating, superficial and intentionally disturbing; and I fail to connect with the art work on an emotional level. This is also how I feel towards Koons and Hirst‘s work – emotionally detached.

However, despite my distaste for the art work, I would recommend a visit to this beautiful free art gallery especially if you are an architecture fan.


newport street gallery

brutalist building vauxhall

vauxhall pleasure garden  vauxhall  street art vauxhall


old paradise gardenold paradise garden

There are also some interesting gardens, buildings and street art in the surrounding area

The gentrification of Brixton

p1170468-min  brixton windmill

brixton windmill

brixton windmill

brixton windmill  brixton windmill  coffee brixton

The restored grade II* listed Ashby’s Mill, also known as Brixton windmill (1816) & a trendy cafe nearby


Due to rapid urbanisation around the world, major urban cities are struggling to cope with the influx of migrants for the past few decades. Housing shortage is one of the biggest challenges that these cities have to deal with; hence gentrification of the more deprived neighbourhoods has been adopted to solve this ongoing issue.

The term ‘gentrification’ was first coined by German/British sociologist Ruth Glass in 1964, and it was used to describe the processes by which the poor were squeezed out of parts of London to make way for the middle and upper classes. Unsurprisingly, the term carries a negative connotation due to increased property values and the displacement of lower-income families and local businesses. Since the 1960s, many neighbourhoods in London have undergone unprecedented transformation, and not all have been welcomed.

When I was young, I was often warned about areas in London like Brixton, Kings Cross, Camden Town, Dalston, Bethnal Green and even Soho because of high crime rates, drug dealing and prostitution issues. Brixton was regarded as ‘the drugs capital of London’, and so it was seen as a no-go area in London – unless you were going to The Fridge (a well-known nightclub in the 80s & 90s).

I only got to know Brixton because of my ex – who owned a flat there – and it was around that period that the area started to transform. I used to walk through Brixton with my head down when I was alone because I was afraid to catch the eye of the drug dealers or gangsters. Then gradually I felt more relaxed and began to explore the colourful and bustling food markets and independent shops selling vintage/ethnic fashion. There were hardly any chained shops or trendy cafes then, but there were many local restaurants and cafes serving good cheap eats.

I have only been back to the area a few times since he sold his flat – for a hefty profit – but I never spent enough time to see the changes that took place. Twelve years on, I was back in Brixton for a day during the design festival, but I could hardly recognise it. Yes, the architecture still stands but everything else has changed. Our previous after-party eatery Speedy noodles has become Foxtons, and the once dated department store Morleys looks more like House of Fraser now after the glossy makeover.




brixton old post office

brixton old post office  brixton

Top & bottom left: Brixton sort office on Blenheim Gardens (1891); Bottom right: The Windmill pub is also a live music venue


My visit to the gentrified Brixton brought memories and surprises. The surprises came from the area’s historical architecture, which is something that I overlooked in the past. In fact, Brixton has a diverse range of architecture – from Victorian to Edwardian and modernist – it is unlike any other neighbourhoods in London. And not to forget, it is also home of the only surviving windmill, Brixton windmill in inner London.


Corpus Christi Church, Brixton

railway hotel brixton  brixton

brixton library

St Matthew's Brixton   brixton

bon marche brixton

brixton dogstar


Top: The Grade II listed Corpus Christi Church (1887); 2nd left: The Railway Hotel, aka Brady’s Bar (1880) is now Wahaca Mexican restaurant; 3rd row: Brixton Library (1893); 4th left: Portico of the Grade II listed St Matthew’s church (1827); 4th right: Market House; 5th: the former Bon Marche department store (not related to the one in Paris) opened in 1877; 6th: Dogstar bar (former Atlantic pub)


Brixton has always been known for its diverse culture and music scene. The beloved Railway Hotel/ Brady’s bar – with a distinctive tower – has been a landmark since it first opened as a hotel in 1880. It became a popular spot for music and dance, and was reputedly frequented by Jimmy Hendrix and The Clash in the 1960s. Renamed as Brady’s in the 1990s, the iconic venue eventually closed down in 1999 and was left derelict since then. Despite long and persistent efforts to convert it to a community centre, the council finally sold it to the property developer, and now the site is occupied by the Mexican food chain Wahaca. Although the chain claims that it has restored the site to its former glory and is committed to the local community, it is hard not to feel sadden by the increasingly homogeneous streetscape in London now.


brixton railway arches

brxiton railway arches

Brixton railway arches


Recently, clashes between Brixton’s anti-gentrification protestors and the police have made headline news. The protestors are angry that 30 local independent businesses in the Brixton Railway arches are being evicted by their landlord, Network Rail, and Lambeth Council, for a £8 million redevelopment of the arches. A petition objecting to Network Rail’s proposal has attracted nearly 30,000 signatures, and you can find more information by clicking on the Save Brixton arches website.

I can totally understand why the protestors are so upset especially after a visit to Pop Brixton, a Boxpark-like ‘village’ near the arches. The so-called village is occupied by trendy streetfood stalls and filled with young hipsters who usually hang out in Shoreditch, Dalston, Hackney and Peckham; and it looks completely out of place among the local market and shops nearby. As one can imagine, like the three areas mentioned, soon or later, Brixton will lose its unique identity and cultural diversity, and become another hipster paradise full of trendy and overpriced cafes and bars. Many have criticised the act of gentrification is a class war, and it is not difficult to see why they think that way.


Lambeth townhall

lambeth townhall  the former South Beach Bar brixton

ritzy brixton

brixton fire station


Top row & 2nd left: The Lambeth Town Hall (1908); 2nd right: the former South Beach Bar originally opened as the Brixton Hill Cinematograph in 1911; 3rd row: the Grade II listed Ritzy cinema (1911) is now run by Picturehouse; Bottom two rows: Brixton fire station (1906)


electric brixton

 Prince of Wales public house brixton

Olive Morris House brixton

brixton centre

brixton recreation centre  Rush flower sculpture in Windrush Square

The Black Cultural Archives

Top: Electric Brixton/formerly known as The Fringe, originally opened as the Palladium Picture Playhouse in 1913; 2nd row: The Prince of Wales public House was built by Joseph Hill F.R.I.B.A. to replace the old building in 1937; 3rd row: the Brutalist Olive Morris House was designed by Edward ‘Ted’ Hollamby in 1975-8, 4th & 5th left: the Grade II listed Brixton Recreation centre was designed by British architect George Finch in 1971 and took 12 years to complete. Its future is uncertain and it is still under the threat of demolition; 5th right: Rush flower sculpture in Windrush Square; Bottom: The Black Cultural Archives opened in 2014


Streetscape, shops & people


brixton bovril ghost sign



brixton  brixton


brixton  brixton

brixton  brixton

brixton market

birxton  brixton


The unique streetscape and shops in Brixton


michaels meat brixton



brixton  brixton



The colourful food market and shops selling fresh and exotic produce


Street art/graffiti


A mural inside the station created by Karen Smith and Angie Biltcliffe in 1986

brixton street art

brixton nathan bowen

brixton street art

brixton street art  david bowie street art  invader brixton

brixton street art

brixton street art

Top: A mural inside the station created by Karen Smith and Angie Biltcliffe in 1986; 3rd row: Street art by Nathan Bowen; 6th middle: David Bowie mural; 6th right: French street artist Invader‘s mosaic; Bottom two rows: Save Brixton arches street art – the bottom one was created by morganico and Maria Beadell


Street art and graffiti has always played crucial role in Brixton, and the eviction of local business by Network Rail has given the street artists a platform to express their dismay. One can find street art under the arches against the controversial redevelopment and unfair eviction.

Across the street lies David Bowie‘s famous mural created by Australian street artist James Cochran in 2013. Now the mural has become his shrine and it may even get listed.

I can’t help feeling pessimistic about the future of Brixton. I think soon or later, local business run by Caribbean, African and other ethnic minorities will eventually be pushed out due to the increased rental costs, change of demographics and the invasion of chained/corporate-run businesses. But despite my pessimism, I still believe that community/people power can change things, and during this unsettling time, we need to support each other more than ever to fight for what we believe in.



Brixton Design Trail

 We Stand As Living Monuments

 We Stand As Living Monuments   We Stand As Living Monuments

‘We Stand As Living Monuments’ by 2MZ at Black Cultural Archives


My last stop at the London design festival was Brixton – a new addition to this year design district. Under the theme ‘Rebel Rebel’, Brixton Design Trail featured a series of installations, exhibitions and events throughout the town centre by resident artists, designers and creative organisations.

At the Black Cultural Archives’ courtyard, an interactive installation, ‘We Stand As Living Monuments’ was created by Brixton design studio 2MZ. The graphic patterned and mirrored cubes created an optical illusion of greater depth and allowed visitors to become the subject of the piece.


Rebel Space Resolve

Rebel Space Resolve

Rebel Space


Nearby in the garden of the St Matthew’s Church, a temporary structure, Rebel Space was used to host a series of workshops, exhibitions and events exploring the themes of space, radical politics and social movements.


Flash Crossings

flash crossing  rebel rebel

Top & bottom left: Flash crossings by Eley Kishimoto with Dolman Bowles; Bottom right: ‘Windows of Brixton’ project created by Hustlebucks, a local youth social enterprise


The colourful and playful Flash crossings were created Eley Kishimoto with Dolman Bowles at a prominent local junction with heavy traffic. Eley Kishimoto’s eye-catching iconic Flash patterns aimed to slow foot and wheeled traffic, and made them aware of other road users and improve safety at the busy junction. Perhaps TFL could consider replacing the standard zebra crossings with these or other fun patterns all over London one day?


brixton revival map

brixton revival

diverse store  diverse store

Brixton revival map, collection and other products at the Diverse gift shop


A Pop-Up Tourist Centre was installed at the Diverse gift shop, featuring a range of memorabilia and souvenir merchandise. Local celebrated artists – Alvin Kofi of Kofi Arts and Terry Humphrey of Trunkstore also launched their design collaboration, Revival, a series of products and stationery celebrating Black presence in Brixton.

I spoke to Terry who was DJing at the shop, and we both reminisced about Brixton before the gentrification. Terry explained that their collection was created to pay homage to the culture, diversity and creativity of Brixton.


Brixton Village   Brixton Village

Brixton Village

img_8357-min  p1170550-min


Brixton Village 


My last stop in Brixton was Pop Brixton, a temporary shipping container village that opened last year. Supported by local activists, a developer and an architect, and with backing from Lambeth Council, the idea of the project was to turn a disused space into a thriving destination for independent retailers, restaurants, street food startups and social enterprises.

The ‘village’ was packed with hipsters when I was there, and I couldn’t help but think that the vibe was more ‘Shoreditch’ or ‘Dalston’ or ‘Peckham’ than Brixton. There was a clear contrast between the people hanging inside and outside of this ‘village’. Suddenly, I saw a white middle-class village in the middle of a former black working class area, and it somehow didn’t feel quite right.


design unboxed pop brixton

  design unboxed brixton

We Can Be Heroes

pop brixton  pop brixton

Design Unboxed at Pop Brixton – 3rd row: ‘We Can Be Heroes’ origami paper cranes installation


After spending almost more than 1/2 a day in Brixton, I felt quite sad that the area has become almost unrecognisable. The changes that took place in the past 10 years had been staggering. Even though I like Brixton village and I am glad that many of the food stores under the railway arch have survived… but for how long, I wonder?

My next entry will continue to explore the gentrification of Brixton…


Brixtopia Brixton Pound

Posters for the Brixtopia event