Isokon Symposium at the Yale Centre for British Art

21 Apr / 10:30pm

A pioneer in its approach to materials, marketing, and design, Isokon Ltd was instrumental in introducing functional modernism to England between the wars. Established in 1932 by the progressive entrepreneur Jack Pritchard (1899–1992), it became known for the sleek, ocean-liner-inspired apartment building on Lawn Road in London, designed by Wells Coates (1895–1958) in 1934, and the iconic collection of bent-plywood furniture, much of it designed by Marcel Breuer (1902–1981). Together these endeavors gave form to a radical new way of living and have inspired generations of designers since.

Apr 21, 2023
10:30 PM Sydney and Melbourne (08:30 AM in Eastern Time – US and Canada))

The story of Isokon is the story of multiculturalism and creative exchange among a vibrant, if intimate, modernist milieu in 1930s London. The striking Lawn Road building, nestled in the historic area of Hampstead, was at the epicenter of the avant-garde community and attracted progressive artists, architects, and writers sympathetic to the model of efficient, collective living it exemplified. Among its residents were Bauhaus masters Breuer, Walter Gropius (1883–1969), and László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946), who fled Nazi Germany with Pritchard’s assistance and subsequently became the backbone of the Isokon design team.

The small but significant range of furniture produced by Isokon in the 1930s marked a new direction for modernist design that combined the sleek machine aesthetic of the Bauhaus with an organicism particular to British modernism. Made using affordable materials and novel modes of production, this collection embedded Isokon in avant-garde discourse about revolutionary design and its impact on social life.

This online symposium will explore Isokon within the systems of manufacturing, media, and collective living that underpinned modernist practice in the 1930s and consider its global legacy.


To join for this symposium, please register here.
To join for the keynote conversation, please register here.

Thursday, April 20 (ET Time)

  • 1–2pm
    Juliet Kinchin, independent design historian – Magnus Englund, Isokon Gallery Trust
    and Leyla Daybelge, Isokon Gallery Trust

Friday, April 21 (ET Time)


  • 8:30–8:45 am An Isokon Exhibition at the YCBA (Rachel Stratton, YCBA)
  • 8:45–9:25 am Researching Isokon—Past, Present, Future (Christopher Wilk, V&A)

Panel 1: The Lawn Road Flats: Before and After
Chair: Alexandra Lange, critic

  • 9:25–9:30 am Introduction
  • 9:30–9:50 am Isokon in the Antipodes: Best Overend and the “Cairo” Flats (Philip Goad, University of Melbourne)
  • 9:50–10:10 am Before Lawn Road (Elizabeth Darling, Oxford Brookes University)
  • 10:10–10:30 am Roundtable discussion
  • 10:30–10:40 am BREAK

Panel 2: The Making and Marketing of Isokon Furniture
Chair: Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen, Yale School of Architecture 

  • 10:40–10:45 am Chair Introduction
  • 10:45–11:05 am Isokon: Prototypes for Cooperation (Jyri Kermik, Estonian Academy of Arts)
  • 11:05–11:25 am Jessica Kelly (London Metropolitan University): Isokon and the Architectural Review: Advertising Modernism to the British Middle Class
  • 11:25–11:45 am Roundtable discussion
  • 11:45 am –12:15 pm BREAK

Panel 3: The Social Life of Isokon 
Chair: Craig Buckley, Yale School of Architecture and History of Art Department

  • 12:15–12:20 pm Chair Introduction
  • 12:20–12:40 pm The Isobar Club and Avant-gardes in London in the 1930s (Caterina Caputo, Università degli Studi dell’Aquila)
  • 12.40–1:00 pm Dwellings of the World Unite! A Comparison of the Lawn Road Flats and Narkomfin, the Convergent Evolution of “Communal Living” in the Interwar Period (Calvin Po, Dark Matter Labs)
  • 1:00 pm–1:20 pm “Dwelling Minimally”: Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and László Moholy-Nagy at Isokon in England (Robin Schuldenfrei, Courtauld Institute of Art)
  • 1:20–1:45 pm Roundtable Discussion