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Completely London

London property market blog

Property: inside and out

/ by Oliver Bennett

London's architecture: Span housing

After World War II, London’s housing stock was severely diminished. How should London be rebuilt, particularly in the light of the progressive post-war mood? Enter young architect Eric Lyons. Schooled in the Modern Movement – in 1936 to 1937 he worked for Walter Gropius during the Bauhaus designer’s sojourn in the UK – Lyons founded Span Housing in 1948 with architect-turned-developer Geoff Townsend. From 1957 the pair set about building on pockets of neglected land, bringing the benefits of Modernism – light, openness, a sense of order – to a domestic scale.

Unlike the austere Modernist homes of mid-century ‘starchitects’ such as ErnÅ‘ Goldfinger, Lyons bought a sense of the vernacular to Span homes, using bricks, hung tiles and even pitched roofs on occasion. Thus Span homes are recognisable as part of the British housing tradition, but also enjoy the clarity of Modernism. Small wonder they became popular and are now collector’s items, with a keen legion of Spannites ever-ready to discuss Lyons’ different housing patterns.

In London you’ll find Span houses in Ham Common, Twickenham and Blackheath Park, where a quick glance will reveal the real joy of a Span home: landscaped communal gardens. With Span, Lyons, who died in 1980, may well have created the first ‘branded’ modern housing.

Elements of Modernist style: large, high-level windows; mono-pitched roofs; stock brick work; hung tiles; open-plan, light-filled interiors; car-free village greens out front and garages out back.

Illustration: Mister Maurao


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Oliver Bennett Freelance journalist

Journalist, Oliver Bennett lives in a late Victorian house in central London and specialises in property, architecture and the built environment. He has worked on several newspapers including the Independent, Telegraph and the Sunday Times, and has contributed to many more magazines from Grand Designs to Homes and Gardens. 

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