22/23/10042 LANGHAM HOUSE CLOSE
22-DEC-98 HAM COMMON
Block of eighteen flats. Designed 1955, built 1957-8 by James Stirling and James Gowan for the Manousso Group of Companies. Stirling designed the main block and Gowan the two pavilion blocks, which accounts for some of the variation in the flat interiors. Second-hand stock brick and in-situ reinforced shuttered concrete. Flat felt roof. Three-storeys.
EXTERIOR: Rectangular plan with three projections on each long facade, each with brick stack. Two and three-bedroom flats in interlocking plan around structural spine wall. Three entrance halls, with dog-leg stairs. Roof and floor levels expressed externally by concrete bands. Thick timber windows with top-opening casements and thick timber doors; the windows forming irregular pattern, though this is identical on each storey except where noted. Entrance (south) front has glazed double entrance doors to left of each projection, with full-height staircase windows of four horizontal lights per storey over. To left of entrance bedroom windows of upside-down 'L' formation. In angle large living room window, with smaller windows of upside-down 'L' formation facing road, and inset balconies with glazed panels set in thick timber balustrades. Concrete panels under most of the smaller windows. Balconies drained by concrete gargoyle of pattern derived from Le Corbusier's Notre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp, and Maisons Jaoul. North front similarly glazed but with staircase windows on two half storeys, each of four horizontal lights, with recessed glass panels above and below. End facades project to left, with full height windows of two lights in wide timber surrounds in returns.
INTERIOR: Internal materials match those used outside. Entrance hall of stock brick with shuttered concrete ceilings and stairs, and quarry tile floors. Flats have living, dining and kitchen spaces planned round exposed brick fireplaces. The kitchen surfaces and handles are made from 'iroko', a substitute for teak. Pre-cast concrete mantlepieces and corbels. Plastered ceilings and walls. Nos. 1-18 is an integral part of the group with Nos. 19-24 and 25-30 Langham House Close.
HISTORY: Thirty flats were built as a speculative development on 999-year leases in the garden of a late Georgian house. They are often known from their locality as Stirling and Gowan's Ham Common flats. The unusual long, narrow shape of the site largely predetermined the layout and day lighting of the blocks. The enlightened developer felt that a good modern design, that was well built, would sell better than the conventional mediocrity of traditional speculative building then being widely derided. In September 1955 and March 1956 Stirling had published two articles in the Architectural Review on Le Corbusier's recent work, one on the Maisons Jaoul, the other on the Ronchamp chapel. At the same time both he and Gowan had looked at the 19205 work in brick of the Dutch de Stijl group. It has been suggested that Ham Common is a correction of the forms of the Maisons Jaoul according to their own rationale. Unlike the Maisons Jaoul the load-bearing brick walls of Ham Common were related to a calculated structural minimum, and to the warehouse buildings of Stirling's native Liverpool. This mix of vernacular and early modern movement influences with raw Corbusian concrete (far better finished here than in Le Corbusier's work) heralded a new style of architecture in Britain, which with its acknowledgement to the massiveness of many buildings of the nineteenth-century industrial revolution was a truly British contribution to the international modernist canon of the late 1950s, and gave an appropriate aesthetic to the title 'New Brutalism' -hitherto claimed by the Smithsons as an ethic or way of seeing things rather than a style of building. Stirling and Gowan had little time for such a tag, and they were in no way followers of the Smithsons; rather they offered an alternative course. Yet the conscious over-design of the Langham House Close flats was a fully developed reaction against the curtain-walled public housing of the period. It was also Stirling and Gowan's first major work in partnership together.
SUMMARY OF IMPORTANCE: Langham House Close is an early and highly influential example of 'New Brutalist' architecture used to great effect in a speculative development. The development derived aspects of Le Corbusier's work at Maisons Jaoul, in particular the combination of brick and exposed shuttered concrete, in what was considered an 'honest use of materials'. The development displayed a quality of design and attention to detail not seen in traditional speculative building or public housing of the period. This is still evident today in the essentially complete interiors and exteriors of the three blocks.
Anon., Flats at Ham Common, in The Architect and Building News, p.16-17, 7 January 1959
Anon., Privately-Built Housing at Ham Common, Surrey, in The Architects¿ Journal, p. 577-582, April 17 1958
Banham, R, The New Brutalism, 1966 (The Architectural Press)
Girouard, M., Big Jim: The Life and Works of James Stirling, 1998 (Chatto and Windus)
Harwood, E., England: A Guide to Post-War Listed Buildings, 2003 (Batsford)
Harwood, E., Interview with James Gowan, April 5 2005 (unpublished)
Harwood, E. and Powers, A., Something Worth Keeping?: Post-War Architecture in England, Housing and Houses, 1997 (English Heritage)
Stirling, J. and Gowan, J., Flats at Langham House, Ham Common, Richmond, in Architectural Design, p. 448-455, November 1958
Stirling, J. and Gowan, J., Afterthought on the Flats at Ham Common, in Architecture and Building, p. 167-169, May 1959
Stirling, J., Garches to Jaoul: Le Corbusier as Domestic Architect in 1927 and 1953 in Architectural Review, p. 145-15, September 1955
Stirling, J., Writing on Architecture, 1998 (Skira)
Listing NGR: TQ1760671859