Brought back to life

Wednesday 04 Jan 2012

A 1960's low-rise modernist house has been fully renovated to create a comptemporary living space

Highgate is one of the most expensive London suburbs in which to live with an active conservation body, the Highgate Society, engaged in the protection of its character. This building, a low rise modernist property built in the 1960's, was designed and built by a well-known local architect couple, who had lived there throughout the remaining years of their lives; Douglas Stirling Craig and his wife Margaret. Stirling worked for Coventry City Council, Stevenage Development Corporation, and with Margaret, set up architectural practice in the late 1950's completing a number of notable projects for a number of private residential clients adopting a Brutalist style of exposed surfaces inside and out.

This approach is clearly evident in the design of 3A Hampstead lane built by 1968. The original building, featured 4/5 bedrooms, along with reception rooms, a kitchen, dining room, utility room, two bathrooms, an integrated garage, and a 60ft garden overlooked by a glass-dominated rear of house. The primary palette of materials consisted of a light coloured fair faced blockwork skin (inside and out) with a silver sand and white cement mix, punctuated with mill finish aluminium window frames and coping with flush pre-finished white hardboard faced doors to the front and flank elevations. To the rear, the primary material was glazing again in mill finish aluminium, with panels over in a clear laquered birch ply, whilst the window surrounds were completed in a plain deal pine and the window cills in mahogany.

Internally the floors were a white flecked vinyl asbestos tile. All the interior joists and woodwork were in plain wood, except for the top of the T and G planking on the 1st floor. There were no skirting boards or door trim and the only places with a dropped ceiling were the kitchen, entry and utility room. The original heating was under-floor electric embedded in the screed.

Working closely with the client in a highly collaborative manner, a brief emerged which sought to carry out a full 'renovation' of the building fabric, whilst also intervening carefully to create a contemporary dwelling, of a more fluid arrangement of spaces, rather than the celluralised original. The brief also sought a greater connection of the living spaces to the gardens, which themselves would be completely redesigned. At roof level, it was intended to replace the existing membrane with a modern version, whilst the services were completely overhauled to modern day standards.

The renovation works focused on retaining the integrity of the original house, through extensive research and analysis of historic documents, drawings, photographs and archived material. Much of the work involved a cleaning and restoration process for the exposed block work, whilst the glazing system was designed to closely accord with the original single glazed system, but achieving modern standards and U-Values. Where interventions to the layout of the internal spaces has been required, this has evident through the clear communication of new structural elements; a new dark grey steel frame which spans the key spaces, in place of previous load bearing walls. The project also includes a full integrated scheme for the landscape, which now has a greater connection to internal spaces.

The project was constrained by its location and context, making access and construction complex and requiring an open and engaged approach to liaising with adjoining owners.

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United Kingdom

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