Wyndham Court, Southampton

Wyndham Court, Southampton

In the 20s and 30s, all Modern architects seemed to be infatuated with Ocean Liners. The curves, contours and towers of a Cunard would be adapted into their houses and flats. The Brutalism of the 60s would, on the other hand, appear to have been a rejection of this high seas frippery for something more earthy and urban.

Wyndham Court in Southampton is the world’s only Brutalist Ocean Liner. This block of flats, which looms over Southampton Central Station, throwing the blandness of its surroundings into sharp relief, is – intentionally or not – a tribute to a bygone era of glamour and luxurious transport, fittingly in the very port where the Queen Mary, the Titanic et al made their voyages.

Making buildings symbolise something is something generally associated with the grisly jokiness of the ‘80s, such as Terry Farrell’s TVAM eggcups and so forth. Wyndham Court, though, makes its associations while never seeming anything less than logical. Twin blocks of flats angling themselves around a central public square, with shops at the edges and turrets sticking out strategically, hewn from white-grey, lustrous concrete, the long, jutting forms unmistakably suggest some sort of Corbusian cruise ship.

The building was designed for Southampton City Council from 1966-69 by Lyons Israel Ellis. This firm was one of the first practitioners of the New Brutalism in the 50s, with their non-pissing about Old Vic extension, all exposed concrete and alien flytowers (their other major building, the School of Engineering and Science in New Cavendish Street, also in London, is as startlingly angular as Wyndham Court and well worth a visit). Though originally intended for the more upper-crust council tenant, with rents high to encourage professionals, Wyndham Court seems to have sat either unnoticed or reviled for 30 years, until it was listed in the late 90s to the obligatory cries of horror from the local press.

This is a strange kind of contextual Brutalism, then: practically the first thing one sees on entering the city centre on the train, it evokes a past both glamorous and industrial as well as being unequivocally a monument to hardline modernism. It also suggests a town far more interesting than the overgrown conglomeration of shopping centres it actually is, though being so close to the station one can always pay it the most fleeting of visits.

How to get there

Wyndham Court is on Commercial Road. Just outside Southampton Central Rail Station. Google map.

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Comments

I am glad to see such architectural relics of the '60's still live on the South and not just in my native North East.

Now it is easier to travel around Eastern Europe you can certainly see that although there was supposed to be an "evil empire" beyond the Elbe, their housing did not half look a lot like ours. Take a look at the flats on the Alexanderplatz (before they disappear) in Berlin and if you are in South Shields on Harton Moor. However, circa 1984, you were never going to see any gold medal winning skaters living at the latter address.

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