There cannot be many post-war buildings which have stoked up as much controversy as Centre Point. Designed by Richard Seifert this brutalist building was completed in 1966 and at 398ft was the second-highest in London.
THE CONTROVERSY did not stop at its uncompromising design as the building remained empty long after its completion. Centre Point’s developer, Harry Hyams, sat on a rising asset as its capital appreciation far outweighed the rental income with the added bonus that the un-let office block did not attract rates.
The fountains, nestled at the windy base of this building, caused by the downdraft as the wind hits its upper floors, once stood a blue mosaic lined pool with five triple-tined-Y-shaped fountains.
Operators of these fountains had an idiosyncratic approach to when they should be turned on. On hot summer evenings, girls waiting for the Astoria to open would sit on the fountain’s parameter wall staring at an empty pool safe in the knowledge they would remain dry. On windy winter nights, aided by the downdraft from 35 storeys above them, hapless pedestrians walking past would get soaked.
Now where these iconic Grade II listed fountains once stood stands the gleaming new station for CrossRail, with its two wonky glass pyramids which the designers describe as crystal sculptural forms. Apparently, the fountains were removed to make way for the ventilation shafts for the new enlarged ticket hall, Transport for London refused to return the fountains to their original location because it was ‘simply not relevant to put something back that does not function.’
The Centre Point fountains were the work of German artist Jupp Dermbach-Mayen who built the fountains at his Swiss Cottage studio in 1963. The fountains, inspired according to Mireille Burton, the artist’s daughter, by designs he had seen at Alhambra, Grenada in Spain, were of different heights and were installed in a blue mosaic pool beneath the Centre Point tower. An integral part of the overall Centre Point design; the ‘Y’ flower shape of the fountains reflected the same ‘Y’ form as the pre-cast concrete inverted and faceted external mullions of the tower block above. The Twentieth Century Society claims the removal of them was symptomatic of a wider problem of post-war art being separated from its architectural context.
When the fountains’ removal was threatened, a public campaign was launched in 2009 to find them a new home. Various locations were suggested including Whitestone Pond in Hampstead where Dernbach-Mayen had been resident. Finally, however, through the intervention of the artist’s daughter and her husband the fountains were given to the Architectural Association. They are now being restored and will be installed at the site of the Association’s school for rural architecture at Hooke Park in Dorset, whether the fountains will be available for the public to view, and positioned in a blue-tiled pool remains to be seen.
Those infamously-sporadic concrete flower fountains will be missed, though . . .