Calls for Finsbury Health Centre upgrade by Berthold Lubetkin’s daughter
A Modernist masterpiece designed by renowned architect Berthold Lubetkin is in as parlous a state as the NHS and should be restored to its former glory, says his daughter
20 July, 2018 — By Emily Finch
The delapidated building as it is today
THE daughter of a world-renowned architect has called for the restoration of a Modernist building hailed as one of the 20th century’s most important constructions on the eve of its 80th anniversary.
Finsbury Health Centre in Pine Street is currently in a state of disrepair with broken tiles, a wonky fence and an overgrown tree obstructing the main signage and entrance. The inside also looks dated and is in need of an upgrade.
The structure was designed by the celebrated architect Berthold Lubetkin, who sought to cater for the medical needs of those living in Finsbury, which was an incredibly deprived area back in 1938 and consisted of slums.
John Allan with Berthold Lubetkin
Mr Lubetkin’s daughter Sasha, who lives in Bristol, said: “It breaks my heart. But it doesn’t surprise me it’s in disrepair because everything my father believed in has been junked. Money is the only criterion – if you have it you can do no wrong; if you don’t you can do no right.”
She added that she “can’t pretend to be optimistic” about a prospective refurbishment.
She said: “The building is tied to so many other things being junked, like the NHS itself. Ordinary people can go to hell from the government’s point of view.”
Lubetkin was a huge advocate of offering ordinary working class people a better life through his designs and the Finsbury Health Centre was a trailblazer in its field and still houses a NHS GP clinic alongside other services including a podiatry clinic and a sexual health clinic.
A poster inside the centre features a quote by the Georgian-born architect which says: “Nothing is too good for ordinary people.”
The centre predates the creation of the NHS by 10 years yet embodied its founding principles of accessible healthcare for all who needed it.
Proposed designs for the health centre. Image: Avanti Architects
Ms Lubetkin said: “There’s never been the will to maintain it. It was one of my father’s favourite buildings. He loved it very much and he felt it was a successful building and embodied how our society should be. I don’t think I can bear to see the centre looking derelict.”
A hard-fought campaign by local residents saw the structure saved from being sold to developers just over six years ago. The Finsbury Health Centre Preservation Trust have long called for the Grade-I listed building to be restored to its former glory.
Barb Jacobson, who spearheads the campaign, said: “A neglected aspect of the NHS cuts has been the property and buildings, which are in danger of being sold by NHS Property Services – who are now tasked to ‘manage’ the estate as towards profit-making.
Proposed designs for the interior of the health centre Image: Avanti Architects
“Not so much maybe Finsbury Health Centre is under threat of sale at this time, but many community health facilities are under threat both in Islington and throughout the UK. We stand to lose a big chunk of public assets this way.”
She added: “The centre has deep roots in the community and there are people who have used the centre since the time they were kids. It should be restored.”
Architect John Allan, who was Lubetkin’s friend and biographer, has also called for a restoration of the structure which he says was designed to be “simultaneously both inviting and monumental”.
His firm Avanti Architects undertook a restoration of the building in the early 1990s, which saw a renovation of the roof coverings alongside other external works. He estimates a full restoration will cost around £10 million.
A spokeswoman from NHS Property Services Ltd, which owns and manages the building, said: “We inherited ownership of Finsbury Health Centre in 2013. We have commissioned a condition survey of the building and are now working with local NHS, council and heritage partners to agree the measures needed to look after this important listed building.”