The nautical theme has been reduced to a corny joke in British seaside architecture, but there's a dignified restraint to it here. The modernist tides of 1930s Europe washed this elegant culture palace up on our shores thanks to an enlightened patron (Earl De La Warr, mayor of Bexhill) and two émigré architects (German Eric Mendelsohn and Chechen Serge Chermayeff). The strong horizontal lines of this 1935 building are reinforced by cantilevered balconies and minimal detailing, and the visual lightness is enabled by a then-radical prefabricated steel-frame and concrete structure.
A majestic crown of thorns or a leaky concrete wigwam, depending on whom you ask, Frederick Gibberd's bold design (completed 1967) successfully translated Christian architectural language into a modern idiom. The trusses of the circular structure evoke gothic flying buttresses, while the circular nave radiates congregational intimacy. Internal highlights include the lantern, with stained glass by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens, and the cavernous crypt of Edwardian architect Sir Edwin Lutyens' previous, unfinished cathedral design – a taste of what might have been.
A fine illustration of form following function designed and built between 1959 and 1963. You can almost read the separate components from the outside, particularly the jutting lecture halls. But rather than slavishly following modernist tenets, with this building James Stirling and James Gowan led the movement away from its purist roots, into something more eclectic and mindful of the past. The crystalline roofscape of the laboratory block, for example, evokes the warehouses of industrial Britain, while the articulated structure draws on the gothic as much as Le Corbusier.
The Barbican's soaring, sprawling scale speaks of irrepressible utopian ambition. Its designers were young architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, who won the competition in 1955 to redevelop a badly bombed area of London – although they would be old or even dead by the time it was finished in 1982. The brutalist treatment has been much maligned, but the concrete is actually of exceptional quality, and the apartments are designed to 140 different floor plans. And despite the maze-like complexity, the scheme was ahead of its time in the creation of a safe, quiet, car-free, pedestrian-friendly mini-town; an urban fortress enclosing oases of culture and calm.
This estate reflects the layout of Le Corbusier's (unbuilt) Ville Radieuse (Radiant City), with its rational layout of giant apartment blocks in wide-open parkland completed in 1959. The ocean liner-like, 11-storey, concrete slab blocks, raised on their slender piloti, were directly inspired by Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation in Marseilles, which the London county council architects had recently visited. But there is a mix of housing options here, from 12-storey towers down to single-storey retirement dwellings. Alton East, modelled on Scandinavian public housing, highlights the ideological split in Britain's postwar housing design.
Berthold Lubetkin said he designed London Zoo's most famous structure as a stage set, albeit one better for showing off the properties of concrete than the natural behaviour of penguins (they were moved to a different enclosure in 2003). It's perhaps better viewed as an abstract sculpture. Its dazzling white curves, long openings and slender piloti distil the Corbusian zeitgeist into a delightful folly, and the intertwining spiral catwalks are a brilliant structural conceit – an aviation-inspired double swoop that soars in ways a penguin cannot.