Lubetkin became my hero when I discovered that he had built some of the finest council housing in London, as well as tthe now-abandoned penguin pool at London Zoo
Near where I stay when I’m in London, behind the junction of Farringdon Road and Rosebery Avenue, is a strange boxy building set behind wonky green railings – it looks a bit like a stranded spaceship that has landed in someone’s front garden. A sign identifies it as Finsbury Health Centre. One day, curious, I stepped inside. On the wall, I found a tribute to the Georgia-born Russian architect Berthold Lubetkin, who built it in 1938. Some of Lubetkin’s sketches were displayed, with notes on his design. A joyful atmosphere would be achieved, he said, by “an entrance hall flooded with light, through a wall of glass bricks, clean surfaces and bright colours to produce a cheerful effect.” This is in striking contrast to the fusty, gloomy Victorian redbrick piles of the past with their labyrinthine corridors and poky corners.
Lubetkin wanted buildings to empower people. “Architecture can be a potent weapon,” he wrote, “a committed driving force on the side of enlightenment, aiming however indirectly at the transformation of our present make-believe society, where images outstrip reality and rewards outpace achievement.”