This building refuses to get out of my mind. I have never been over enthusiastic about classical design, most of work from Christopher Wren and Inigo Jones is appreciated and some of their buildings held in very high esteem. However, this building’s simplicity and the bold form have intrigued me from the day I set my eyes on it the first time in early 60s.

The ‘History of Architecture’ we were taught hardly gave us a clue about details of classical orders or ‘Tuscan Temples’ but recently I sat down to look at some of the history of St Paul’s Church (which proved to be long and complicated) and ‘the pain of it’s birth’ confirmed some of the basic features this building displays to this days. It also defines the genius of an architect who understood the role of significant buildings within the public urban spaces.

The first impression I gain is that the offer of building a new Church by the Earl of Bedford was not dissimilar to the present day ‘planning-gain’ in return for obtaining permission to develop a brand new high quality housing scheme around a new square.

As you would expect the client told the architect to build this ‘gift’ as economically as possible and that famous lines,” … not much better than a barn.” and the reply by Jones, “Well!! Then you shall have the handsomest barn in England.”

Jones also got entangled in church politics by proposing the seating/alter in the opposite orientation to ‘norms’ and wishes of the parish vicar. Jones’s famous ‘Tuscan Temple’ elevation lost a lot of its relevance by becoming the blanked off rear elevation facing the proposed square but his mind was set on gaining a centre piece of a certain stature.

Inigo Jones was at peak of his career and the opportunity to build this prestigious square development was as attractive to an architect then as it is now. This also offered Jones an opportunity to display his unconformity, scholarly primitivism (tempted to use the word ‘brutalism’) and possibly his aspiration to highlight the purity of the early uncorrupted church.

The picture above and below were taken on a cold evening in late February. A time when the stalls are closing and most of the tourists are leaving. Let me show you some sights as seen the same evening.

The office development by Renzo Piano taken from the hotel window. Centre Point is behind Pianos blocks.

The GLC housing almost opposite Covent Garden Tube station in dark bricks looks rather sombre.

The Opera House Development completed by Dixon and Jones in 2000 looks impressive any time of day. The L shaped part of the development making up one corner of the square has carried on with Inigo Jones like colonnade using modern language.

The old vegetable market now houses a busy craft market and expensive shops and restaurants. The basements which were originally vegetable stores have been opened up to become commercial spaces.


The new city started to display its first housing grids between Bletchley and Central Milton Keynes during early 70s. Some of the first housing developments and unfortunately some of the first casualties of badly built building fabrics and ’social’ problems due to wrong allocation policies and mass import of problem tenants from London and Birmingham slum areas also took place at this initial stage. IMGCoffeeHallalt Coffee Hall grid (along with Netherfield and Bean Hill) was one of the earliest grids to be developed. The layout was a refined exercise in organizing a highly ordered and disciplined grid in and around existing landscape features. One and two storey terraced houses to Parker Morris standards were provided in fair faced concrete walls with flat roofs at fairly low housing densities. IMGMKAerial08_0001alt Coffee Hall never recovered from a disastrous start with a reputation of a failed estate in almost all aspects. The original housing saw some immediate changes to cure leaks and condensation and the empty spaces left un-built around the rigid geometric grid were soon filled in by badly designed housing, which I find too painful to photograph to this day. IMGHouApr08_0004alt1 The housing was built to generous Parker Morris space standards but built during a shortage of reasonable building materials and tradesmen. Leaking roofs and condensation started  to plague the estate right from the day one. Note the retention of existing hedges. IMGDome08_OK26alt CoffeeHallAug09 023alt A loving tribute to Corbusier was offered by the MK architects but for obvious reasons Villas were not on offer. However a church was perfectly in order. Unfortunately even this little modest offering has  suffered by thoughtless additions. This remains one of the few buildings worth a visit in this area. White paint is now cream and the grass mound has been replaced by an unsightly curved roof building. OxfordDec08_0010alt MacCormac & Jamieson produced this noteworthy housing for single people in 1975-77, when this slide was taken.  Even in the present state of poor upkeep, the building sits on site comfortably and retains its poise to enhance a depressing area. CoffeeHallAug09 057alt CoffeeHallAug09 IMGCoffeeHall1altIMGoffeeHall2a The northern part of the grid was reserved and planned for Woughton Education Campus to house three secondary schools, a Roman Catholic school, school annexes, a sixth Form College and a joint use recreation centre. According to the Head teacher of the Campus,” Woughton ward is among the 10% most impoverished in the country and the catchment area is the most deprived in MK” Panorama 16CoffeeHallAc CoffeeHallAug09 052alt The odd juxtapositioning above illustrates a competition winning low cost private housing scheme by Andrew Sebire & Kit Allsop built in 1982 , described by them as architectural equivalent of the Citroen 2CV. CoffeeHallAug09 042alt No one  imagined that one day it will be pitched against the juggernaut of an Academy next door. The grassed area on left is surrounded by the school (1978) on one side,now to be demolished and  Woughton Centre housing Sports Hall, Performance Area and Swimming Pool (shown on left) acting as a community building. There was some modest housing planned on opposite extremities of the education campus to create some mixed use, but the temptation to fill the empty green fields with housing (and once again of terrible layout and design) proved too great and the resulting mess of excessive but lucrative housing, failing schools, (some now pending demolition) and building of a new Academy in a ‘left-over’ corner of now crowded site hardly shows planning anticipation and aptitude of caretaker town planners of this new city.

The gloomy picture painted here is an attempt to record some of the disasters and occasional successes, before the haze of time and eventual re-writing of the local history distorts the facts beyond recognition for the future generations.

The photograph above showing the wall painting in Woughton Leisure Centre is a work called ‘ Situation Comedy’ painted in 1981 by Boyd & Evans. This was their first commission in MK and was followed by many other. The name reflects the inclusion of some existing building features within the painting, such as stairs and projecting balcony. The blue handrail in photo has an extra bar added, it used to be red as shown in the painting.

For site layout and location of buildings shown above look here; The original Local Community Centre here;