Hopkins House


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
49a Downshire Hill, London, NW3 1NX


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Statutory Address:
49a Downshire Hill, London, NW3 1NX

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:


House, built by Michael and Patty Hopkins for themselves and their family in 1975-6. It also served as their offices until the mid-1980s. Structural engineer Tony Hunt.

Reasons for Designation

Hopkins House, 49a Downshire Hill, built by Michael and Patty Hopkins for themselves and their family in 1975-6 is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* a highly elegant and economic lightweight steel frame and glass building, in the High-Tech tradition;

* as a 'built feasibility study', it is an exercise in achieving maximum, flexible space within the confines of a site, and on a tight budget;

* experimental and influential, it informed the practice's subsequent commercial work;

* designed with a sparing use of materials and to be efficient in the context of the energy crisis at the time.

Historic interest:

* a post-war private house and office of the 1970s, built by the architects for themselves at the outset of their practice; 

* an early and key building by this prolific post-war practice, one of the leading exponents of High-Tech and of experiment with structure and materials, where energy efficiency is a key tenet of the practice. 


Built as a family home in 1975-6 by the architects Michael and Patty Hopkins, the house also served as their office until the early 1980s, when the practice moved to Broadley Terrace, Marylebone, built in 1983-5, that it still occupies.

The house occupies a gap between Victorian mansions typical of Hampstead and the Regency villas that makes Downshire Hill distinctive from the rest of the village. It presents a sensitively unobtrusive one-storey façade to the street, with a second floor tucked below. Built at low cost, Patty Hopkins has suggested that they might have secured planning permission for a third storey, had they been able to afford it.

The architects were influenced by the Eames Case Study House of 1949, though their house had added demands because of the multiple uses expected of it and number of occupants. It was designed and constructed as a 'built feasibility study', an exercise in achieving maximum space within the confines of a site constrained by various building lines, limiting it to a 10m depth where they would have preferred 12m. It can be seen as an evolution from Foster's IBM 'Pilot' building, Cosham, for which Michael Hopkins had been the Partner, Hopkins noting that ‘for us there was no question but that it would be built with metal and glass’ (AR, 1997). It is as designed with great elegance and economy of materials, refining and reducing techniques used for larger commercial buildings (Progressive Architecture, 1978).

The low thermal capacity of the house and use of Venetian blinds resulted in controllable solar gain and acceptable heating bills, something considered in the initial design of the house as a response to the energy crisis of 1973-4. The glass skin was replaced with double-glazing in about 2009. The house won a RIBA award in 1977 and a Civic Trust Award in 1979.

Interviewed by the Architectural Association for the centenary of its admission of women students in 1917, Patty Hopkins noted that she was the main contractor and oversaw the sub-contractors. She had not worked with Michael before, having had her own small practice while bringing up the children, save when they were students and Michael had bought a derelict timber-framed sixteenth-century townhouse in Suffolk which they had slowly restored. She suggested that this early exploration of timber construction might have informed their later understanding of steel.

Sir Michael Hopkins started an architectural practice together with Patty Hopkins in 1976, ending a partnership with Norman Foster that had begun in 1968. Born in 1935, he had worked with Frederick Gibberd and Sir Basil Spence in the 1950s, and then studied at the Architectural Association where he met his future wife Patty (nee Wainwright, b.1942); it was at her final 'crit' in 1967 that the couple met Norman Foster. The Hopkinses formed their own practice in the house they completed for themselves in 1976. The building became the forerunner of the Hopkins steel and glass buildings, commissioned in the 1980s for Greene King in Bury St Edmunds, Schlumberger's headquarters in Cambridge, 1985 (listed at Grade II*, National Heritage List for England 1438644) and Fleet Infant School for Hampshire County Council of 1984-85 (listed at Grade II, NHLE 1440165). Their later work has explored greater contextualisation, beginning with the commission to rebuild the Mound Stand at Lord's Cricket Ground (1987), and followed by the addition to Bracken House in 1988-92 (included in the Grade II* listing, NHLE 1262582). Hopkins was elected a Royal Academician in 1992 and received a knighthood in 1995. The couple jointly won the RIBA Gold Medal in 1994.


House, built by Michael and Patty Hopkins for themselves and their family in 1975-6. It also served as their offices until the mid-1980s. Structural engineer Tony Hunt.

MATERIALS AND STRUCTURE: lightweight steel frame, coloured blue, with eight 60mm x 60mm internal columns and open web bar beams. It is laid out on a 4m by 2m grid, avoiding the need for secondary structure, and allowing small structural members. The front and rear walls are clad in glass, the side walls and ceilings are of corrugated steel sheeting, giving a horizontal ripple effect repeated by the use of aluminium Venetian blinds to shield the windows and to provide internal partitions.

Floors and walls are thin membranes. Perimeter columns are close enough to be used directly to support the cladding and glazing, with minimum intrusion or trim, the window rails hidden beneath the frame.

PLAN: laid out on two levels, exploiting a steeply sloping site with a 3m difference between street and garden levels, the building is entered via a metal footbridge on the upper, street, level. It occupies a 12m by 10m envelope giving two floors of 120m squared each, connected by a roughly central spiral staircase.

The office is on the upper floor on the right-hand side of the entrance, while the kitchen and main living space is on the lower floor, overlooking the garden. Bedrooms are on the upper and lower levels, arranged around service cores which contain bathrooms. The master bedroom overlooks the garden on the upper level, with children's rooms and spaces on the lower level on the roadside.

EXTERIOR: the glazed single-storey street frontage, separated from the adjacent houses by a one metre gap each side, appears discreet and low slung, approached by a central mesh footbridge, while the lower level looks out over a raking embankment. The two-storey rear elevation opens directly onto the garden at lower level, through sliding doors in the glazing.

INTERIOR: internal spaces are modulated by the square section columns and frame, from which Venetian blinds are suspended, offering great flexibility in the use of the space. On the lower level bookcases or more substantial partitions separate the bedrooms. The service cores are enclosed by similar partitions. The steel spiral stair, also coloured blue, was inspired by Neave Brown's Winscombe Street terrace, their previous home.


Books and journals
Davies, Colin (ed), Hopkins, The work of Michael Hopkins and Partners, (1993), 26-37
Architects' Journal, vol.166, no. 28 (13 July 1977) p.59
Architectural Review, vol. CLXII, no. 970 (December 1977), p. 373-7
Domus, No. 578 (June 1978) pp. 5-7
Glass Age, vol.21, no.1 (February 1978), pp.25-7
Patty Hopkins, interviewed by Hannah Durham for the project AA XX 100, 12 March and 2 July 2015
Progressive Architecture, vol. 59, no.7 (July 1978), pp. 50-3
RIBA Journal, vol. 84, no.8 (August 1977), p.345
RIBA Journal, vol.120, no.12 (December 2013), p.98


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

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