Pillwood House


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Pillwood, Feock, Truro, Cornwall, TR3 6SD


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Statutory Address:
Pillwood, Feock, Truro, Cornwall, TR3 6SD

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:


A High-Tech holiday home by John Miller of Colquhoun and Miller with Su Rogers, 1973-1974.

Reasons for Designation

Pillwood, Pill Creek, Feock in Cornwall, a High-Tech holiday home designed by John Miller of Colquhoun and Miller with Su Rogers, 1973-1974, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* John Milller and Su Rogers were both leaders and key players in post-war architectural design and architectural education; * The imaginative design, in planning terms, against a bank, responsive to the location, blending with its sylvan surroundings to achieve an inter-visibility, the restrained and consistent use of colour throughout highlighting the material quality; * Its innovative use of GRP, a new and still experimental medium at the time; * It is remarkably little altered, retaining its original finishes and the vast majority of its original features;

Historic interest:

* Pillwood was the first modern domestic property to use GRP - the attention given to ventilation and insulation were significant at the time, and the architects' exploration of responsible solutions to energy conservation demonstrate an early awareness; Group value: * In close proximity to Creekvean (Grade II*), with which it also shares patronage and architectural input.


Pillwood was designed in 1971-1972 and built between July 1973 and October 1974 after difficulties in securing planning permission that led to a timber mock-up being constructed. The client was Marcus Brumwell, an advertising executive and founder of the Design Research Unit. Brumwell and his wife Irene had already commissioned a house nearby from their daughter and son-in-law, Su and Richard Rogers, in partnership with Norman Foster and his future wife Wendy Cheesman in 1963, now listed at Grade II*. In 1971 he turned again to Su Rogers, this time with her new partner (later husband) John Miller, to design Pillwood House, a small retreat for the family on the site of an existing timber structure.

The flat terrace site already existed, occupied by a run down, single storey house. Miller made his first designs (in 1971 according to the Architects’ Journal) for a masonry construction, but was introduced to glass reinforced plastic (GRP) through an engineer exploring its use for staircases. He then had to convince the engineer for Pillwood, Anthony Hunt, then the go-to engineer for steel-framed houses, that the design would work. It is understood that Miller explained he wanted a house that provided the most open views and which blended in with its surroundings, especially in the principal living space. The top of the house seems visually suspended in the trees and has 180-degree views. The total cost of the build was a modest £37,750. A second house designed in 1972 for a private client on the long, narrow site by Pill Creek was never realised.

Miller describes Pillwood as ‘an essay in industrial technology’ rather than being specifically ‘high-tech’, although the structural engineer for the job, Anthony Hunt, specialised in high-tech modern housing. Although the client was nominally Rogers’s father, the design responded to the needs of the architects’ large family, providing a variety of sleeping spaces within a tiny volume. Richmond Bauer described it as ‘a delightful whim set down on a beautiful site; each complements the other and a ‘toy for living’. Miller described his sources as ‘pavilions and ships’ (AJ), although Architectural Design also suggests that the large glazed porches and conservatories found in older houses in the locality were an influence. He started with ‘the idea of using squares, manipulating them both horizontally and vertically’, seen in the plan divided into five rectangles of two 3.75m square each. The GRP panels on the outside are also rectangular (long rectangles for the two-storey panels), and the circles of the two spiral staircases add a contrasting geometry. Miller explained, too, that as the house was a holiday home he decided to ‘make it a fun house as well as a sun house’. The trailblazing design featured in Country Life, the Architects' Journal, Ideal Home and was published in French, Spanish and Italian architectural magazines as well. It won the RIBA South West Award in 1975.

John Miller was born in 1930 and studied at the Architectural Association (AA) in 1950-1955 following National Service. His was a highly articulate and intellectual cohort, with contemporary students including Neave Brown, Patrick Hodgkinson and Kenneth Frampton, friends who all combined designing buildings with teaching. Miller was taught at the AA by Peter Smithson who recommended that Miller join Lyons, Israel and Ellis (LIE), a germinating practice for others including James Stirling, James Gowan, Neave Brown and Alan Colquhoun. Miller left in 1958 to join Leslie Martin’s atelier in Cambridge. In 1961 he joined Alan Colquhoun, forming Colquhuon and Miller.

Colquhoun and Miller combined design work with teaching. Their work was mostly for schools and university buildings. Miller set up a full school of architecture at the Royal College of Art in 1975. By that time he had married, divorced, and met Su Rogers, another divorcee, with five children between them. They married in 1985. From 1973 until the early 1980s Colquhoun and Miller specialised in low-cost housing, for the London Borough of Haringey and the Milton Keynes Development Corporation. The practice also worked extensively at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, National Gallery and Tate Britain in the 1980s, designing extensions as well as undertaking exhibition work.

Su Rogers was born in 1939 and studied sociology at the London School of Economics and town planning at Yale. She began teaching at the AA in 1971 following the break-up of her marriage to Richard Rogers, and from 1975 also at the Royal College of Art. She became a partner in Colquhoun, Miller and Partners in 1986.

J Miller and Partners (formed in 1990 after Colquhoun's departure to the USA) built many large university buildings in the 1990s, notably at Cambridge, Warwick and the University of East Anglia, while maintaining an involvement with museum and exhibition design.


A High-Tech holiday home by John Miller of Colquhoun and Miller with Su Rogers, 1973-1974.

MATERIALS: steel, aluminium, glass and white glass reinforced plastic (GRP).

DESCRIPTION: Pillwood comprises two floors linked by two spiral stairs, one in the double-height space to the front and one leading from the parents’ bedroom and the bathroom at the back, where there are also single-storey storage areas. Sleeping is accommodated on the lower level where a series of sliding walls gives flexibility: depending on the number of visitors, rooms can be opened up or enclosed as required, and each has a glazed door to the outside. Upstairs the kitchen, dining and main living spaces make the most of the views. This has a single partition and gives the effect of a platform within a conservatory, with a patio at the rear giving on to the steep valley side. Louvres in the glazing at the bottom and top provide natural through ventilation, aided by blinds and the surrounding trees. There was under-floor background heating for winter use, to which a stove was later added, and the panels were highly insulated by the standards of the time.

Structurally the concrete floor slabs (originally covered in orange foam-backed vinyl) are supported on a steel frame of eight columns, four horizontal members and four pairs of trusses, painted green to complement the surroundings. The walls are formed of white Artech GRP sandwich panels with neoprene joints and patent glazing in aluminium frames, which is also used for the roof. Green Artech GRP is used for the two spiral stairs.


Books and journals
Frampton, K, Colquhoun, Miller and Partners , (1988), 74-9
Miller, J (ed), Custom and Innovation, the work of John Miller and Partners, (2009), 134-9
'Pillwood House' in Architects’ Journal , , Vol. 162, no 31, (30 July 1975), 248-9
'Pillwood House' in Architectural Design, , Vol. 45, no 3, (March 1975), 153-6
'Pillwood House, Cornwall' in Architects' Journal, , Vol. 162, no 46, (12 November 1975), 1003-12
'Open House' in Ideal Home, , Vol. 118, no 4, (October 1979), 4-7
'Pillwood' in Country Life, , Vol. 197, no 32, (7 August 2003), 42-5
Architecture Française, vol 36, no 393, October 1975, 100-1
Casabella, vol 40 no 5 (413), May 1976, 28-35
RIBA Journal, vol 82, nos 7/8, July/August 1975, 10
Ville Giardini, no 108, January 1977, 14-17


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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