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Isokon Company

  • Name:
    Isokon Company
  • Kind of Organisation:
    Architecture and Furniture Company
  • Introduction:

    The furniture design and architecture company Isokon was an important commissioner for emigrants such as Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius, László Moholy-Nagy, Ernst Riess and Edith Tudor-Hart.

    Word Count: 27

  • Content:

    Founded in 1931 under the name Isokon, the furniture design and architecture company was an important reference point for emigrants such as Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius, László Moholy-Nagy, Ernst Riess and Edith Tudor-Hart. A number of émigré architects and designers were resident at the Isokon Building in Lawn Road during the 1930s; they were commissioned for designs or worked as graphic designers or photographers for the company, whose founders were Jack Pritchard, Molly Pritchard and Wells Coates. Jack Pritchard in particular supported the German-speaking emigrants who had been coming to London since 1933. He helped Gropius with entry formalities and offered him a flat in his Lawn Road Flats (also known as the Isokon Building) (Hammel 2006, 24).

    The Lawn Road Flats, designed by Wells Coates and commissioned by Jack Pritchard, were completed in 1934 (Daybelge 2019). The conception was based on principles of urban ‘good living’ and a reduced living space that nonetheless offered all conveniences deemed necessary for comfortable living, such as built-in cupboards, sliding doors, a dressing room and a small kitchen (Darling 2012, 65–73). The construction and opening of Lawn Road Flats were photographed by Edith Tudor-Hart, a photographer who had emigrated from Vienna (Forbes 2005, 62). Tudor-Hart also designed the Lawn Road Flats’ Christmas Card of 1934.
    While trying to establish himself as a freelance architect, Gropius had also worked as the art director of the Isokon Furniture Company. Marcel Breuer, another Lawn Road resident, was similarly involved with Isokon. He was responsible for designing a collection of plywood furniture for the company (Powers 2019, 90f.) that translated his seating furniture of the 1920s into an aesthetic appropriate for wood (Grieve 2004, 34f.) In the manifesto Circle (1937), co-written by British avant-gardists and emigrants, Breuer described in an essay his metamorphosis from the use of aluminium to wood (Breuer 1937).

    In 1937 the central kitchen of Lawn Road Flats, which provided the tenants with meals to order, was converted into a restaurant with a bar, the ‘Isobar’, which became the social hub of the building. The name ‘Isobar’ was composed of ‘Iso’ for Isokon and ‘bar’ for barometer, referring to Molly Pritchard’s passion for weather forecasts – a barograph was prominently installed (Freise 2009, 29; Allan 2016, 63). The Isobar was fitted with furniture by Isokon, designed by the émigré Bauhaus artist Marcel Breuer. A map of northwest London was pinned to the wall next to the bar. City, map and bar were thus brought together conceptually and the Isobar marked as an urban location for amusement and conversation (Allan 2016, 63) The Isobar was also a venue for talks and exhibitions  – for instance with works by Bob Wellington and John Piper shown during July 1938 (Freise 2009, 127). The Isobar was a meeting place for the residents of Lawn Road Flats. Among them were the founder and director of the Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau, Walter Gropius and his wife Ise Gropius (Burke 2014, 50f.; MacLean 2021, 83–116)
    The émigrés, together with their artistic and intellectual circle, came together in 1937 to send off Walter Gropius, who had decided to leave Britain for Harvard University. The Farewell Dinner for Gropius, hosted by the biologist Julian Huxley, took place on 9 March at the Trocadero Restaurant in Coventry Street. Die bill of Fare was designed by László Moholy-Nagy who was also responsible for a leaflet design commissioned by Isokon.

    Even after Gropius, Breuer and Moholy-Nagy left London, Isokon remained a destination for emigrants. The émigré architect Egon Riss lived at Lawn Road Flats in 1939, financially supported by the Architects’ Czech Refugee Relief Fund. The housing situation led to collaboration. Riss created several designs for Isokon, including one of the company’s most successful and iconic pieces of furniture, the Isokon Penguin Donkey. This was a small plywood bookcase made to measure for Penguin Press paperbacks (Hammel 2006, 31). Newspapers and magazines could also be stored in a slot between the two sides. Riss also designed a smaller version, the Isokon Gull, which could be hung on the wall (Daybelge/Englund 2019, 161). The Isokon Penguin Donkey and Isokon Gull are still in production today, a testament to the creativity of the community of exiled artists in London in the 1930s and 1940s.

    Word Count: 676

  • Known addresses in Metromod cities:

    Lawn Road Flats, 3 Lawn Road, Hampstead, London NW3.

  • Signature Image:
    Egon Riess, Isokon Penguin Donkey, 1939 (Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia).
  • Media:
    Edith Tudor-Hart took a series of photographs of the construction and opening of Lawn Road Flats in 1934 (Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia, © The Estate of Wolfgang Suschitzky).
    Edith Tudor-Hart, Lawn Road Flats’ Christmas card, 1934, cover (Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia, © The Estate of Wolfgang Suschitzky).
    The Isobar, photo: Dell & Wainwright, c. 1937 (Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia). Bar with designs by Marcel Breuer.
    Edith Tudor-Hart, Terrace of the Isobar overlooking the Isobar garden, c. 1930s (Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia, © The Estate of Wolfgang Suschitzky). Isokon Long Chairs designed by Marcel Breuer.
    László Moholy-Nagy, Cover of sales leaflet for Marcel Breuer’s Isokon Long Chair, 1937 (Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia, © László Moholy-Nagy).
  • Bibliography (selected):

    Allan, John. “The Isobar. The social hub.” Isokon Gallery. The Story of a New Vision of Urban Living, edited by Isokon Gallery Trust, Isokon Gallery, London, 2016, pp. 60–67.

    Anker, Peder. The Bauhaus of Nature. Louisiana State University Press, 2005.

    Breuer, Marcel. “Architecture and Material.” Circle. International Survey of Constructive Art, edited by J.L. Martín et al., Faber & Faber, 1937, pp. 193–202.

    Burke, David. The Lawn Road Flats. Spies, Writers and Artists. The Boydell Press, 2014.

    Darling, Elizabeth. Wells Coates. Twentieth Century Architects. RIBA Publishing, 2012.

    Daybelge, Leyla. “The Lawn Road Flats.” Insiders Outsiders. Refugees from Nazi Europe and their Contribution to British Visual Culture, edited by Monica Bohm-Duchen, Lund Humphries, 2019, pp. 165–171.

    Daybelge, Leyla, and Magnus Englund. Isokon and the Bauhaus in Britain. Batsford, 2019.

    Forbes, Duncan. “Politics, Photography and Exile in the Life of Edith Tudor-Hart (1908–1973.” Arts in Exile in Britain 1933–1945. Politics and Cultural Identity (The Yearbook of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies, 6 (2004)), edited by Shulamith Behr and Marian Malet, Rodopi, 2005, pp. 45–87.

    Freise, Florentina-Aventura. Asketischer Komfort. Das Londoner Servicehaus Isokon (Artificium. Schriften zur Kunst und Kunstvermittlung, 29). Athena, 2009.

    Grieve, Alastair. Isokon. For ease, for ever. Isokon Plus, 2004.

    Hammel, Andrea. “Jack Pritchard, refugees from Nazism and Isokon Design.” Exile and Patronage: Cross-cultural Negotiations Beyond the Third Reich (Mittel- und Ostmitteleuropastudien, 3), edited by Andrew Chandler et al., Lit Verlag, 2006, pp. 23–32.

    MacLean, Caroline. Circles & Squares. The Lives & Art of the Hampstead Modernists. Bloomsbury, 2021.

    Powers, Alan. Bauhaus goes West. Modern Art and Design in Britain and Amerika. Thames & Hudson, 2019.

    Word Count: 247

  • Archives and Sources:

    Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia.

    Word Count: 6

  • Acknowledgements:

    My deepest thanks go to Bridget Gillies (University of East Anglia Archive) for supporting me with images from the Pritchard Papers, and to Peter Suschitzky who gave me permission to reproduce works by Edith Tudor-Hart.

    Word Count: 35

  • Author:
    Burcu Dogramaci
  • Date of Founding:
    1931
  • Metropolis:
    London
  • Entry in process:
    no
  • Burcu Dogramaci. "Isokon Company." METROMOD Archive, 2021, https://archive.metromod.net/viewer.p/69/1470/object/5145-11267260, last modified: 28-04-2021.
  • Edith Tudor-Hart
    Photographer

    The Viennese photographer Edith Tudor-Hart emigrated to England in 1933 and made a name with her photographs focusing on questions of class, social exclusion and the lives of marginalised people.

    Word Count: 29

    Edith Tudor-Hart took a series of photographs of the construction and opening of Lawn Road Flats in 1934 (Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia, © The Estate of Wolfgang Suschitzky).
    Edith Tudor-Hart, Lawn Road Flats’ Christmas card, 1934, cover (Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia, © The Estate of Wolfgang Suschitzky).Edith Tudor-Hart, Lawn Road Flats’ Christmas card, 1934, inside (Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia, © The Estate of Wolfgang Suschitzky).Edith Tudor-Hart, Gee Street, Finsbury, London, c. 1936, in Wal Hannington’s The Problem of the Distressed Areas, Left Book Club Edition, 1937, pl. 23 (© The Estate of Wolfgang Suschitzky).Lilliput, vol. 4, 1939, p. 426: “Should we have this? A beauty parlour for dogs”, photo: Edith Tudor-Hart, c. 1937 and p. 427: “Must we have this? A London slum”, photo: Edith Tudor-Hart, c. 1936 (© The Estate of Wolfgang Suschitzky).Margery Spring Rice. Working-Class Wives. Their Health and Conditions. Penguin Press, 1939, cover with photograph by Edith Tudor-Hart (© The Estate of Wolfgang Suschitzky).Margery Spring Rice. Working-Class Wives. Their Health and Conditions. Penguin Press, 1939, pl. 2–4: photographs by Edith Tudor-Hart (© The Estate of Wolfgang Suschitzky).
    London
    László Moholy-Nagy
    PhotographerGraphic DesignerPainterSculptor

    László Moholy-Nagy emigrated to London in 1935, where he worked in close contact with the local avantgarde and was commissioned for window display decoration, photo books, advertising and film work.

    Word Count: 30

    László Moholy-Nagy, Cover of sales leaflet for Marcel Breuer’s Isokon Long Chair, 1937 (Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia, © László Moholy-Nagy).
    László Moholy-Nagy, Bill of Fare, farewell dinner menu for Walter Gropius, London, March 1937, front page (Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia, © László Moholy-Nagy).Mary Benedetta. The Street Markets of London. Photographs by László Moholy-Nagy. (reissued 1972). Benjamin Blom, 1972, “Petticoat Lane: The Spectacle Man” and “Petticoat Lane: In a side street. Some Arabian visitors at a second-hand clothes stall” (Photo: Private Archive, © The Moholy-Nagy Foundation).Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, their triplets and Hattula Moholy-Nagy at 7 Farm Walk, the London home of László and Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, June 1936 (provided by The Moholy-Nagy Foundation).
    London
    Farewell Dinner for Walter Gropius
    Dinner

    Friends and colleagues came together on 9 March 1937 to send off the architect Walter Gropius and his wife Ise Gropius, who had decided to leave for the United States.

    Word Count: 28

    László Moholy-Nagy, Bill of Fare, farewell dinner menu for Walter Gropius, London, March 1937, front page (Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia, © László Moholy-Nagy).
    László Moholy-Nagy, Bill of Fare, farewell dinner menu for Walter Gropius, London, March 1937 (Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia, © László Moholy-Nagy).László Moholy-Nagy, Bill of Fare, farewell dinner menu for Walter Gropius, London, March 1937, Alphabetical List of Guests (Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia, © László Moholy-Nagy).Portrait of Walter Gropius, London, c. 1937 (Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia). This photo was included in the Bill of Fare farewell dinner menu for Walter Gropius designed by László Moholy-Nagy.
    London
    Julian Huxley
    ZoologistPhilosopherWriter

    Julian Huxley was the director of London Zoo from 1935 to 1942 and worked closely with emigrant photographers, artists and architects, including Berthold Lubetkin, Erna Pinner and Wolf Suschitzky.

    Word Count: 27

    Editorial by Julian Huxley in the first issue of Animal and Zoo Magazine, no. 1, 1936, p. 6 (METROMOD Archive).
    Charlotte Wolff. Studies in Hand-Reading. Chatto & Windus, 1936, p. 77: Reading Julian and Aldous Huxley’s hands (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, Deutsches Exilarchiv 1933–1945, Frankfurt am Main).Charlotte Wolff. “The Form and Dermatoglyphs of the Hands and Feet of certain Anthropoid Apes”. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, Series A, 1937, Part 3, 347 + Plate (Library of the Zoological Institute, University of Hamburg). At the zoo’s behest, Charlotte Wolff applied chirology to the primates at London Zoo.“Young Artists in the Zoo” reads the headline to this photo essay on the Animal Art Studio at London Zoo, published in the Animal and Zoo Magazine, vol. 2, no. 11, 1938, p. 18–19 (METROMOD Archive).Julian Huxley and Ludwig Koch. Animal Language. Photographs by Ylla. Country Life, 1938, cover (METROMOD Archive). Two records of animal voices were included with this sound book.Erna Pinner. “Map of geographical distribution.” Julian S. Huxley. Zoo. Official Guide to the Gardens and Aquarium of the Zoological Society of London, 1937, pp. 102–103 (ZSL Library, London, Original © Erna Pinner).Julian Huxley and Wolf Suschitzky. Kingdom of the Beasts. Thames & Hudson, 1956, pp. 157–158 (© The Estate of Wolfgang Suschitzky)László Moholy-Nagy, Bill of Fare, farewell dinner menu for Walter Gropius, London, March 1937: List of Toasts naming Julian Huxley as chairman of the event (Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia, @ László Moholy-Nagy).
    London