New Street Flats, Barbican, Plymouth New Street Flats, Barbican, Plymouth New Street Flats, Barbican, Plymouth


The ‘New Objectivity’, or ‘Neue Sachlichkeit’, architectural movement in Germany began in the 1920s, and, like Expressionist architecture, it had its counterparts in art, literature, theatre, photography, film, music and so on. The Neue Sachlichkeit movement would design the ‘Neues Bauen’, new buildings, providing functional, often mass-produced blocks of flats, or houses, factories, schools and more. Leading lights of the new Objectivity school included Ernst May, Franz Roeckle, Bruno and Max Taut and Eric Mendelsohn.

Whilst the largely German New Objectivity movement was influenced by British ‘Garden City’ developments such as at Welwyn and Letchworth the architectural style could not have provided a greater contrast. Like the Henry Roberts built flats in Streatham Street London which were hygienic and functional but certainly not luxurious or rustic, the Germans designed for ‘existence minimum’, utilising space as efficiently as possible both inside and outside of the flats. Careful gradations of necessary space were made including calculating angles of buildings relative to the sun so that light and space could be maximised without wasting land or resources.

One novel approach to this idea was the ‘zickzackhausen’ blocks designed by Ernst May in the ‘New’ Frankfurt. These shifted flat-fronted facades so that they became regular projecting zigzags. An echo of this style was built in Plymouth in the 1960s in the aptly named ‘New Street’ (which was ‘new’ when the first Queen Elizabeth was on the throne). The New Street flats, just off the Barbican in one of the oldest parts of Plymouth were designed by the architect Alan Ballantyne, with structural engineering by BHR’s own software engineer Chris Lawrey, working with consulting engineers J H Ivory and Partners. Alan Ballantyne was also responsible for the Plymouth Civic Centre, the main council offices in city and now (somewhat controversially) a listed building. The use of the zickzack form allowed for views down New Street, the alternative of a flat-fronted block would have given residents little natural light or any views of the street as opposite the block are tall and solid-looking historic warehouse buildings. A similar style of zickzacks can be seen in this row of shops and upstairs flats from Kirkdale in Liverpool.

AKL 30/3/2012

Zickzack Housing in Liverpool