After writing about W.T.Curtis and William Burchett, the Middlesex County architects of the 1930s who were responsible for many public buildings that define the style of the north west London suburbs, I was pleased to be contacted by Sam Smith, who had found an article about Oakwood Manor School (above), Curtis’s first foray into modernism, in The Architect and Building News. There was pressure for new school places in Middlesex, due to the rapid development of Metroland, and they had to be provided quickly and at reasonable cost. It was this need for economy and speed that made Curtis turn to functionalism.
‘Readers who have been familiar with the pleasantly “domestic” schools hitherto designed by the Middlesex County Architect,’ wrote The Architect, ‘will experience something of a mild shock at discovering that Mr. Curtis has “gone modern”. This result has arisen from the financial crisis. … From the financial point of view, the experiment seems to be juistified, since this school has been built for an inclusive cost of £28 per head, which is a low figure for a two-storied building of fire-resisting construction.’
In the building internal levels are stepped to follow the slope of the site; Crittal windows are used to make light, bright classrooms; internal walls are left unplastered because the cavity wall construction produced a fair-face brick surface inside; but there are aesthetic choices too in the horizontal stress of the elevation and the insertion of a prominent contrasting staircase tower, following the style of Willem Dudok’s Hilversum town hall.