No. 78 South Hill Park
- Heritage Category:
- Listed Building
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Statutory Address:
- Hampstead, London, NW3 2SN
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- Statutory Address:
- Hampstead, London, NW3 2SN
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Greater London Authority
- Camden (London Borough)
- Non Civil Parish
- National Grid Reference:
Private house by Brian Housden for himself and his family, designed from 1958 onwards, and built 1963-65.
Reasons for Designation
No. 78 South Hill Park, a private house by Brian Housden for himself, designed from 1958 onwards, and built 1963-65, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: as a completely unique piece of architectural vision and ingenuity that syntheses a great wealth of influences and ideas and is executed with an intensity and conviction that is entirely personal; * Historic interest: Housden was one of the first architects to visit, understand and incorporate elements of pioneering European modernism in his work, as well as looking towards classical and ancient African traditions; * Striking use of materials: in its heavy concrete frame, glass mosaic, and extensive use of glass lenses, the house adopts a range of materials which creates an extraordinarily unconventional aesthetic, as well as a beautifully lit interior, and controlled views out from the house; * Context: the house is part of a group of important post-war private houses in South Hill Park, and an example of Camden Council’s approach towards innovative design for houses and housing in the early post-war decades.
78 South Hill Park was designed by the architect Brian Housden from 1958, and was built 1963-65.
Housden studied at the Architectural Association in the early 1950s, and, marrying in 1953, he and his wife Margaret began to search for a site on which to build their own home. South Hill Park had been developed with large houses in the 1870s, but a bomb site on its western side overlooking Hampstead Ponds was being developed by young architects with their own homes, most famously with a terrace of narrow houses by Howell and Amis for themselves and friends built in 1954-6. By 1958 Housden had acquired the adjoining site from John Killick, colleague and future partner of Howell and Amis. Housden set about designing a house for the site which synthesised a great wealth of influences and ideas, three of which stand out in particular.
On a trip to Holland the Housdens met Truus Schroder-Schrader and Gerrit Rietveld at the house in Utrecht on which the two had collaborated in 1924. The Rietveld Schroder House was a built demonstration of the very close relationship Mrs Schroder sought with her three children, and the principal accommodation on the first floor is a single space defined by built-in furniture and folding screens. The Rietveld Schroder House is the principal built monument of the de Stijl movement in art and architecture, in which the construction of the house is revealed as a series of interlocking planes with different elements painted in bright colours like a Mondriaan painting. The tiny, jewel-like house sits at the end of a long terrace of larger, brick houses built a few years earlier, just as No.78 sits alongside its tall brick neighbour, No.76, at the end of a terrace. At their meeting Mrs Housden admired Rietveld's furniture, and he promised her 'a collection'. Subsequently the Housdens acquired fourteen original pieces, made for them on Rietveld's instructions by van der Groenekan. The collection was given to them for the cost of the materials and transportation. The new house had thus to be designed to contain these important pieces.
On the same trip the Housdens also met Aldo van Eyck, the architect and theorist who collaborated with a number of British architects including the Smithsons as a member of the international group Team X, and whose interest in designing for children had progressed from building playgrounds for the Amsterdam authorities to the construction of an orphanage then nearing completion. The Amsterdam Orphanage is not only a building consciously designed to the scale of small people, with different spaces and facilities for different ages and sexes, but in its materials and ideas it also closely matched Housden's emerging concept. Van Eyck's building confirmed the importance of built-in fixtures that Housden had earlier seen when studying the work of Adolf Loos, who incorporated fixed seating and shelving at interesting points and different levels all around his houses. Van Eyck's comments on planning, that 'a house must be like a small city if it's to be a real house; a city like a large house if it's to be a real city' are akin to the thoughts of Andreas Palladio quoted by Housden in his unpublished work, "The Imaginative Function of Buildings": 'for the City is but one great House, or Family, so every family, or private House, is a little City'.
The third principal influence on the design of No.78 South Hill Park is that of the Maison de Verre of 1928-32 by Pierre Chareau, Bernard Bijvoet and Dalbert in Paris, which was visited by Housden when it was still occupied by its original owner, Mme Annie Dalsace. Her husband was a successful gynaecologist. Mme Dalsace explained to Housden that she had suggested the use of glass blocks or lenses for the patients' waiting room so that Dr Dalsace's clients - most of whom had fertility problems - would not be upset by the sight of the Dalsaces' children playing in the garden, and placed strips of clear glazing where they would not intrude. The waiting room, and indeed the whole house, is nevertheless flooded with light. The Maison de Verre also has an exposed steel framework internally, and exposed services. Housden was one of the first architects to appreciate the qualities of the Maison de Verre; in the 1960s it became widely acclaimed as a model for young architects interested in exposed steel structures and services, with articles by Kenneth Frampton and Richard Rogers. Housden suggested the house built by Adolf Rading for the 1929 Breslau Werkbundsiedlung as another model, not only for the controlled use of clear glass but also for its exposed services.
The architects who trained immediately before and during the war had consciously rejected historical references in their work in favour of a functional style developed directly out of the plan. But the architects trained after the war, given a better education in architectural history and with greater opportunities to travel, adopted history as their own, a history that included the first buildings of the modern movement from the 1920s, including the Rietveld Schroder House and Maison de Verre. Housden was one of the first architects to visit, understand and incorporate elements of pioneering European modernism in his work. Yet for all these clear sources, based on the exceptional experience of actual meetings with the original architects and/or clients, No. 78 South Hill Park possesses a consistency and novelty of vision that is entirely Housden's.
Behind the modern European references there is an extra layer of meaning that has its roots in Greek and Renaissance classicism, with its proportional systems based on the scale of the human body. Housden extended this reference to include the mandalas of Eastern mythology, here taking the simple form of a circle within a square, and expressed in the shuttering of the ceilings over the carport, study, dining table and master bedroom, as well as in the form of the pool on the rear terrace. He also likened the basement space to the form of the 'family house' built by the Dogon tribes of Mali, in which every function has its place.
The Housdens first occupied the uncompleted house late in 1964, with their three daughters, a stand pipe in the kitchen and a temporary lavatory. Mrs Housden recalled how the builders took pity on her and set to erecting the kitchen sinks. The house was structurally complete a year or two later, but much of its embellishment was completed over a number of years as funds allowed.
Private house by Brian Housden for himself, designed from 1958 onwards, and built 1963-65.
MATERIALS: the house has a concrete post and slab superstructure, supported on a raft of reinforced-concrete ground beams. Between the concrete structural elements, the walls are formed of concrete blocks faced with Venetian white glass mosaic, panels of Nevada glass lenses set in concrete frames reinforced with aluminium, and bands of narrow Crittall windows. The glass lenses are three centimetres thick, and were made by the German glass manufacturer Siemens.
PLAN: the house has two and-a-half storeys, above a lower-ground-floor with an area to the front, and the garden to the rear. A concrete bridge (above the kitchen) gives access to the street level carport and front door.
The lower-ground-floor has an open-plan kitchen, dining and living space; the ground floor contained study areas for Housden and his wife, and the bedrooms are arranged over the first and mezzanine floors above. The house has two stairs – a straight flight connecting the ground floor with the lower-ground-floor, and a dog-leg cantilevered stair between ground floor and the floors above.
EXTERIOR: the houses to either side of No. 78 South Hill Park (No. 76 to the left, and Nos. 80-90 to the right) are all post-war constructions. However, whilst these present a modern reinterpretation of the large Victorian town houses which dominate South Hill Park, No. 78 makes no such concession.
The heavy, reinforced concrete 'tray' of the roof sits well below the height of either of its neighbours. Beneath, the front elevation is an idiosyncratic composition of recessed and projecting forms and plains, composed of the exposed concrete structure and panels of glass lenses with horizontal bands of Crittall windows. The half-storey at the top of the building is expressed externally with an off-set bay over the carport, from which the rest of the building is set back. The canopy of the car port projects out past the building-line of the rest of the street.
The rear elevation of the house is largely flush, with the exception of a full-width steel balcony at ground floor (here, one floor up), and a square oriel window projecting out at first floor. A wide folding glass door leads from the lower-ground-floor out into the garden. Above, the elevation is formed entirely of panels of glass lenses and Crittall windows set between the concrete frame.
INTERIOR: internally, No. 78 is essentially a house of two halves, with one and a half storeys of bedrooms clustered around a cantilevered stair, and a large, partially double-height space on the entrance and garden levels, where the communal areas of the house are situated. Housden believed it was important that from the enlarged step at the bottom of the stairs at garden level, you should be able to see all the living elements of the house - the kitchen, the dining and sitting areas, his and Mrs Housden's study areas and all the heating and boiler arrangements.
The robust simplicity of the interior is exemplified in the untreated board-marked concrete ceilings, and exposed services which snake through the spaces, providing heating and power. The floors are generally surfaced in blue or white mosaic tile, the changes between the colours helping to mark the function of particular spaces. The house has relatively little in the way of built-in furniture, notable exceptions being the laboratory sinks in the kitchen, set in a free-standing masonry island; and the built-in plastered brick bed frames in the bedrooms. Originally there was little in the way of decorative embellishment, other than the inscribed mandalas mentioned above, the over-riding aesthetic being one of function and honesty, but more lavish, natural, materials have been added over time, such as the capping of the stair balustrade with marble. The house is well provided with natural light due the extensive use of the glass lenses in the walling – the soft, diffuse quality of this light brings out the sculptural quality of the interior - but views out of the house are generally constrained to bands of clear Crittall glazing that are at sitting or reclining level.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: to the front of the building, at street level, a low concrete boundary wall surrounds the area, and acts as a balustrade for the steps down to lower-ground-floor. To the front, the number '78' is cast into the wall, and there remain fixings in place which held black steel gates and fencing panels which were part of the original design, although installed much later, and subsequently taken down.
In the garden is a shallow circular pool with four square stepping stones and a central square planter.
Books and journals
Twentieth Century Society, , Twentieth Century Architecture 4: Post War Houses, (2000), pp. 9-18
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
End of official listing