Manser Medal Winner: Hampstead Lane
Text: Joe Morris
This sensitive and rigorous renovation of a 1960s Brutalist house has taken an austere structure, with its unpromising street view and maze of cellular rooms, and made it into a house that lifts the spirits. The architects' approach throughout has been to question what is strictly necessary to the functionality of the house and to pare back accordingly. Hence the removal of two internal walls that ran the full depth of the house, which have been replaced by a straightforward steel structure. This means the main room is flooded with natural light, while the intimacy of the bedrooms has been retained. Two of these open out on to the garden, as does the main living-eating-cooking space, while the mezzanine master bedroom overlooks it across a strip of planted roof. The garden is a delight; a rectangle of landscape that in summer doubles the living space via the fully-glazed sliding doors.
Despite the extensive renovation, the character and qualities of the original structure remain intact, taking on an altogether different quality when set against the sensitive interventions that define the project. This has been a Jabour of love, approached with an appreciation and care for the original house and its history. The clients, both considerable architects in their own rights, have taken the sensible but unusual step of calling in other architects to realise their dream. The result is a joy to step into. In Michael Manser’s words, ‘this is truly a house of its time and of the moment’.
Architects' view: Mary Duggan and Joe Morris
_Background and planning considerations
Highgate is one of the most expensive London suburbs to live in and it has an active conservation body, the Highgate Society, engaged in the protection of its character. This building, a low-rise Modernist property constructed in the 1960s, was designed and built by a well known local architect couple who lived there in the last 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 1950s, completing a number of notable projects for private residential clients in a Brutalist style, with exposed surfaces inside and out. This approach is evident in the design of 3A Hampstead Lane, built in 1968.
_The original building
The original building featured four or five bedrooms, along with reception rooms, a kitchen, dining room, utility room, two bathrooms, an integrated garage and a 60-foot garden overlooked by the glass-dominated rear of the house. The primary palette of materials consisted of a light-coloured, fair-faced blockwork skin, both inside and out, with a silver sand and white cement mix. This was 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 in a clear lacquered birch ply. The window surrounds were completed in a plain deal pine and the window sills in mahogany. Internally, the floors were laid with 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 first floor. There were no skirting boards or door trims, and the only places with a dropped ceiling were the kitchen, entry and utility room. The original heating was underfloor electric embedded in the screed.
_The Brief. Working closely with the client, a brief emerged that sought to carry out a full renovation of the building fabric, while intervening carefully to create a contemporary dwelling with a more fluid arrangement of spaces, rather than the cellular 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, while the services were completely overhauled to modern standards.
The renovation 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 cleaning and restoring the exposed blockwork, while the glazing system was designed to closely accord with the original single-glazed system, but with modern standards and U-values. Where interventions to the layout of the internal spaces were required, this enabled clear communication of new structural elements, including the new darkgrey steel frame, which spans the key spaces in place of previous load-bearing walls. The project also included a fully integrated scheme for the landscape, which is now more connected to the internal spaces.
The majority of the components used for the detailing are assembled from the building’s original design. The skill involved in the construction process thus stems from a deep knowledge of the building techniques, materials and design ambition of the original architects, Stirling and Margaret Craig.
Throughout the project, our intent has focused on two basic premises. Firstly, to do little to alter what we have been given. Secondly, to intervene where necessary, but to do so honestly and with compassion for the language of the original building. In the detail illustrated, you will find both these considerations.The foundations, roof structure and blockwork were in place. The glazing, a thin-framed aluminium system, matched the sightlines of the original, albeit with double rather than single glazing. The screed, while new, is set to the same datum as the original, but incorporates improved insulation and a modern ‘wet’ underfloor heating system. At roof level, we have merely overlaid the ‘repaired’ asphalt with a thick-planted sedum zone. The living spaces below have been opened up with new steel ‘I’ sections supporting the primary loads following the removal of load-bearing masonry.
Joe Morris, director,
Duggan Morris Architects