Central Square Architecture
The design of Central Square and the surrounding area as it stands today is the result of three competing visions, held by the three designers of Hampstead Garden Suburb.
Henrietta Barnett, the founder, wanted the hill top to be a centre for both religious and scientific knowledge as well as being a traditional English green complete with a Gothic church.
Raymond Unwin, the master planner, was striving to create a beautiful village with each house designed to fit its particular surroundings, and lanes following the contours of the landscape.
Edwin Lutyens, invited to design some of the Suburbs most recognisable buildings in Central Square in 1906, had a vision of buildings of Palladian and Classical simplicity within a formalised setting.
Unwin’s original concept for Central square was a ‘village centre,’ but due to Lutyens’ influence the final layout was a much more formal design, centred on a trinity of public buildings; St. Jude’s Anglican church, the Free Church and the Institute education centre. The inclusion of two churches and later a Friends Meeting House was due to Henrietta Barnett’s belief that the “individuality given to us by our creator must find its expression in varied methods of worship,” but despite this egalitarian outlook she was still the wife of the Anglican minister and this could be why the Anglican church is subtly more raised and dominant in the square.
The clarity of the plan is typical of Lutyens, while the intended creation of an enclosed square through the extension of the side wings of the Institute (never completed) is a key theme in Unwin’s town planning and is mentioned in his book ‘Town Planning in Practice’.
Lutyens’ initial design for St. Jude’s was based around an Italian palazzo with a campanile instead of a church spire. However Henrietta Barnett rejected this, insisting on a more obviously English style.
Lutyens compromised with the simplification of the design of St. Jude’s and the inclusion of the massive roof punctured by dormers which recalls a medieval barn. The edge of the roof creates a very strong cornice line, this horizontal emphasis balancing the dramatic spire. At Henrietta Barnett’s insistence the spire and cornice line were lowered to decrease the overshadowing of the nearby houses, which in turn led Lutyens to adhere to the level of the cornice line rigorously on Erskine Hill despite the falling land level, possibly in a pointed reaction to her objections.
The Free Church mirrors St. Jude’s across the central formal garden; its plan is the same as St. Jude’s however the Anglican spire is replace with a more Byzantine dome and cupola, and its west end was never completed.
The Institute between the two is a simple ‘Wrenissance’ (inspired by both Wren and the Italian master architects) design. The central block is set back to create another smaller square, contained on three sides by the Institute and opened out on the other to the formal garden and beyond that to Henrietta Barnett’s favourite view of the Heath, now partially obscured by trees.
This is a formal space created through the use of simple elements and the relationships between them, and through the strength of the simple concepts of its creators and their interaction, which makes not only the buildings individually, but the square as a whole such an influential piece of urban design.