South Norwood’s ‘brutalist’ library in Top 10 attractions

Yet more sphincter-clenching embarrassment for the Blairites who control Croydon’s Labour Party, as the public library which their local council wants to flog off, for possible demolition and redevelopment, is to feature in September’s Open House London celebration of all that is admirable in the capital’s architecture.

‘Anti-council’: the brutalist South Norwood Library is part of Open House London next month. Local Blairite MP Steve Reed OBE will be soooo proud

Inside Croydon reported earlier this month how Labour had blocked the candidate application of a university lecturer simply because he had supported a community campaign to save the under-threat South Norwood Library. The library campaign was described by the disapproving Blairites as “anti-council”.

But now South Norwood Library is one of just a handful of venues in Croydon which have been included on the roster of places to visit in 2021’s post-lockdown Open House week, which runs from September 4 to 12 – inviting the public from around the world to come along and admire “the brutalist library” which Croydon Council wants to close.

Croydon, in case you have forgotten, is London’s Borough of Culture 2023…

South Norwood Library has even received admiring comments from the Architects’ Journal, which has included it as one of the top 10 places to see during Open House London.

As well as South Norwood Library, other recommended venues to visit in the AJ Top 10 are 10 Downing Street (architect: Sir Christopher Wren), Trellick Tower (like South Norwood Library, another piece of 1960s brutalism, this designed by Erno Goldfinger) and the fabulously evocative George Inn, the Southwark pub supposed to have been frequented by Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dickens.

The AJ, despite having been cheerleaders for Jo “Negreedy” Negrini when the council CEO saw it as her special mission to shovel as many millions of pounds of public money towards some of hr chums among London’s more fashionable firms of architects, has somehow failed to include any of Brick by Brick’s “architect-designed” buildings in its Top 10.

South Norwood Library’s fate has been placed in jeopardy at least in part because of the serial incompetence of the council’s loss-making house-builders: Brick by Brick built a replacement library round the corner, by Norwood Junction, with the 1960s building earmarked for sale to help balance the books.

Celebrated: the building that Croydon Labour wants to flog off and potentially destroy is a cherished piece of London architecture

South Norwood Library was designed by Hugh Lea, when Croydon Council had an architects’ department worthy of the name.

The Architects’ Journal says, “The purpose-built library is a fine but under-appreciated example of Brutalism. Built by Hugh Lea, Borough Architect for Croydon, in 1968 the main volume shows Miesian influence with an abundance of natural light, interrupted by a concrete cuboid.”

Perhaps Croydon Labour just doesn’t like concrete cuboids, as well as community campaigns?

For Open House London, South Norwood Library will be open to visitors until 3.30pm on Saturdays September 4 and 11.

There are fewer Croydon locations open for Open House London this year than in pre-covid times (Fisher’s Folly, for instance, won’t be unlocking its revolving doors to the public).

But Croydon Minster will be offering several guided tours and talks, Airport House will be open to visitors, and ECCO, the East Croydon Community Organisation, is arranging walks taking in DH Lawrence’s former home and Richard Siefert’s No1 Croydon.

For the full listing of all venues participating in Open House London next month, visit the website here.

Prized pub: the George Inn, like South Norwood Library, is among  the Top 10 attractions of Open House London

The 2021 Open House will be marking the 30th anniversary of its parent charity, Open City, which runs a year-round programme of educational activities, films, tours and weekly podcast.

Open House will include a special focus on London’s pubs and breweries which, following a challenging 16 months during the pandemic, will be the focus of a new book Public House, a Cultural and Social History of the London Pub profiling 120 remarkable pubs with a foreword by London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

Head of Open House Festival Siân Milliner said: “In 2021 the Open House Festival is back with hundreds of in-person events celebrating the reopening of cultural life across the capital. We hope the festival will strengthen London’s cultural and economic recovery and promote walking and cycling across all 33 boroughs.”

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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1 Response to South Norwood’s ‘brutalist’ library in Top 10 attractions

  1. Ian Ross says:

    I’m all for keeping the library but it as appealing to look at as some 70s soviet “new” town. Had it been built by Brick-by-Brick I wouldn’t have been surprised.
    The term “architect designed” is trotted out on a frequent basis as if to garner praise. Who else would design a building? A butcher, baker, candlestick maker….? In the case of BXB someone with very little imagination. One overwhelming theme: pig ugly.

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