44 Britton Street

Overview

Heritage Category: Listed Building

Grade: II

List Entry Number: 1449454

Date first listed: 02-Feb-2018

Statutory Address: 44 Britton Street, Clerkenwell, London, EC1M 5NA

Map

Ordnance survey map of 44 Britton Street
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Location

Statutory Address: 44 Britton Street, Clerkenwell, London, EC1M 5NA

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

County: Greater London Authority

District: Islington (London Borough)

Parish: Non Civil Parish

National Grid Reference: TQ3168381947

Summary

Town house of 1986-1988 for Janet Street-Porter, designed by Piers Gough of CZWG and built by Mike Di Marco.

Reasons for Designation

44 Britton Street, 1986-1988, by CZWG, is listed at Grade II, for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* an extrovert and ostentatious example of Post-Modern domestic architecture, its layered elevations, whimsical features and sophisticated composition and detailing a creative tour-de-force; * inventive and idiosyncratic internal planning which survives well; * a highly personalised commission, reflecting the lifestyle and personality of the patron while enabling the architect strong creative expression.

Historic interest:

* a key project by CZWG, a celebrated late-C20 British practice, representing their work at a small, personal scale; * an uncommon late-C20 revival of the London townhouse tradition, anticipating the repopulation of post-industrial areas of inner-London.

History

Post-Modernism, a movement and a style prevalent in architecture between about 1975 and 1990, is defined in terms of its relationship with modern architecture. Post-Modernist architecture is characterised by its plurality, engagement with urban context and setting, reference to older architectural traditions and use of metaphor and symbolism. As a formal language it has affinities with mannerism (unexpected exaggeration, distortions of classical scale and proportion) and the spatial sophistication of Baroque architecture. Post-Modernism accepts the technology of industrialised society but expresses it in more diverse ways than the machine imagery of the contemporary High-Tech style.

The origins of the style are found in the United States, notably in the work of Robert Venturi and Charles Moore which combined aspects of their country’s traditions (ranging from the C19 Shingle Style to Las Vegas) with the knowing irony of pop art. A parallel European stream combined an abstracted classicism or a revival of 1930s rationalism with renewed interest in the continental city and its building types. In England, the American and European idioms converged in the late 1970s, to produce works by architects of international significance, including James Stirling, and distinctive voices unique to Britain such as John Outram. The 1980s revival of the British economy was manifested in major urban projects by Terry Farrell and others in London, while practices such as CZWG devised striking imagery for commercial and residential developments in Docklands and elsewhere.

Janet Street-Porter (b 1946) is an English journalist and television presenter. She met Piers Gough and Mike Di Marco in their first year of the Architectural Association in 1965-1966, before abandoning her studies to pursue a media career, but harboured the ambition to commission a house by an architect she admired. In the mid-1980s she was in a position to do so, and commissioned a design from Gough of CZWG, with Di Marco undertaking the construction. The site for the new house was in Clerkenwell, on a corner plot vacant since the Second World War. A forerunner in the repopulation of post-industrial London, Street-Porter financed her project by selling her previous home, a barge repair workshop in Limehouse, Tower Hamlets. Gough recalls that the house, to a degree, designed itself: Street-Porter specified a number of practical features, such as a billiard room and a segregated office, though her primary objective, as she explained in the BBC programme 'Building Sights', was for the house to present an hostile exterior, discouraging unwanted visitors. The elevations, in some sense, are conventional, following rhythmical bay divisions and echoing the proportions of the surrounding Georgian buildings, though the overlaid interlinking diamond frameworks across the façade create a wholly untraditional aesthetic, to which the materials, chosen due to happenstance and budget, contribute; free bricks were offered by a manufacturer hoping to capitalise on the eventual success of the building, and while Gough was reticent to use any of the four colours offered, Street-Porter decided all four colours, laid to recede in shade as the building rose, would create a trompe l’oeil of perpetual sunlight on the façade. Likewise, the bright blue-tiled roof was chosen due to the offer of a cheap end-of-line lot of Stirling tiles. There is no outward-facing entrance to the building, abetting Street-Porter’s unwelcoming aspirations, as the front door is tucked away in the gated courtyard. The original nail-head doors and leaded windows lend a fortress-like quality, while other details, such as the anachronistic log lintels, are playful reflections of the owner’s tastes – Street-Porter was a keen rambler. The angular exterior was countered in the plan form, a defining element of which was the curved courtyard wall. The layout of the floors was quite different from each other, designed for specific functions: on the ground floor the billiards room and a diminutive guest room (to discourage lengthy stays!) had angular dividing walls echoing the line of the façade. Above, the first-floor bedroom was en-suite and had a dressing room, with a spacious bedroom enabling Street-Porter to manoeuvre her wheeled bed to produce different vistas, with the curved wall of the stair defining the space. The third floor is the principal living area, with piano nobile-proportioned windows, and a kitchen was separated by curved walls reflecting the stair and the semi-circular balcony overlooking the street. The roof-top office was only accessible by an external stair in order to provide a sense of leaving the house to start work. The design, intended to be an abstract portrait of the occupant, reflected her avant garde, idiosyncratic outlook, and her desire for privacy and separation of work from home life. Street-Porter lived in the house from 1988 until 2001.

Campbell Zogolovitch Wilkinson and Gough (CZWG) was formed in London in 1975. The practice’s eclectic, Post-Modern style is underpinned by a consistent design approach, including the use of bold, geometric gestures, engagement with urban context and resourceful use of building materials and technologies. The four founder partners, Nicholas Campbell, Rex Wilkinson, Roger Zogolovitch and Piers Gough studied together at the Architectural Association in London between 1965 and 1971. The practice’s early workload was based on the conversion of older buildings such as Phillips West 2 (1975-1976) and pioneered ‘loft living’ in the UK: the conversion of industrial buildings to live/work units for artists, designers and others. The 1980s regeneration of Docklands brought housing commissions such as China Wharf (1986-1987), Cascades (1986-1988) and the Circle (1987-1989), while the practice’s workload has since diversified to include civic and commercial projects.

The critical reception for 44 Britton Street was almost entirely positive, with complimentary reports in both the architectural and mainstream press. In Country Life Ken Powell described it as a ‘minor masterpiece’, ‘post-modernism personified’, and CZWG as ‘an important, perhaps vital element in the current rich and varied British architectural scene’ (26 April 1990). In the Architects’ Journal it was described as a ‘box of delights. Behind that ostensibly orderly façade is a home whose planning, spatial and tectonic games would astonish even Gough’s illustrious forbears’ (22 February 1989).

Street-Porter and the house featured in an episode of the television programme Building Sights (1988), providing an excellent account of the original interiors, which included a bath fed by a standpipe, raw pot and beam ceilings and metal mesh walling – intended to be plastered, but left bare to express the structure and creating an industrial aesthetic. Street-Porter moved from the house in 2001 and inevitably many of these highly personal details have been lost to refurbishment. However, the plan form and general structure survive well. A window has been inserted on the southern corner of the ground floor.

Details

Town house of 1986-1988 for Janet Street-Porter, designed by Piers Gough of CZWG and built by Mike Di Marco.

STRUCTURE and MATERIALS: brick cavity wall construction with concrete floors, glazed tile roof and window frames and balconies of galvanised steel.

PLAN: the building, on the north side of the junction of Britton Street and Albion Place, has a canted street corner and bowed rear wall, to preserve the neighbouring building’s rights to light. Entrance is into an enclosed courtyard on Albion Place.

Each storey has a different plan, with the stair running along the curved rear wall. The ground floor was formerly the billiard room with guest bedroom and adjoining bathroom; the first-floor was an open-plan bedroom, leading to a dressing room and with access to an en-suite bathroom. The second floor was an open-plan sitting-cum-dining room with kitchen and utility room adjoining to south. An external spiral staircase gives access to a roof terrace and a roof-top studio office.

EXTERIOR: the external elevations are brick laid in stretcher bond, graduated in four shades from brown to buff. The windows are of vertical proportion with diagonal glazing bars and pre-cast concrete lintels to simulate rustic logs; six bays to Albion Place and two bays to Britton Street. The lower windows have sills running at 45 degrees which align with diagonal lattice screens of galvanised steel which oversail the brick walls. The helm roof is clad in blue glazed pantiles. The gable to Albion Place is entirely glazed with diamond-pattern glazing bars which correspond to the diagonal grid of the elevations. The canted corner contains first- and second-floor balconies, of contrasting size and design but triangular in plan. They are echoed by a second-floor balcony central to the Albion Place elevation, which is a conical form of metalwork set into a diamond-shaped opening. A triangular plaque forms the top angle of the diamond and is inscribed ‘J / SP / 1987 / CZWG / ARCHITS / DI MARCO / CONSTRUCTION’.

A diagonal pattern of glazed bricks set into the courtyard elevation articulates the internal staircase. Adjoining this is the metal spiral stair to the roof terrace.

INTERIORS: not inspected (2017). Street-Porter's interiors are largely refurbished, in white-painted plaster with wooden floors, but retaining to a large degree the original plans.

Sources

Books and journals
Charles, J, Post-Modern Triumphs in London, (1991), 30
Irving (ed), M, 1001 Buildings You Must See Before You Die, (2012), 652
Moffett, Noel, The Best of British Architecture 1980-2000, (1992), 129
Sudjic, D, English Extremists: the Architecture of Campbell Zogolovitch Wilkinson Gough, (1988), 36-39
Astragal, , 'House Proud' in Architects' Journal, , Vol. 184, no 4429, (October 1986), 16
Powell, K, 'PoMo Personified: Kenneth Powell on Property in London' in Country Life, , Vol. 184, no 17, (26 April 1990), 148
'Brash but Friendly' in Architects' Journal, , Vol. 189, no 8, (22 February 1989), 28-31
Websites
Survey of London: Volume 46, South and East Clerkenwell, 2008, pp 164-181, accessed 24/08/2017 from http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol46/pp164-181
Other
‘Building Sights, Series 2:3. Janet Street-Porter’, BBC [film], first shown 11 October 1989, available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01rqrd0, accessed 23/11/2017
Edwin Heathcote, ‘Janet Street-Porter’s House’ in Icon, no 156, June 2016, pp 108-9
Martin Pawley, 'The house that Janet built', in Guardian, 17 October 1988

End of official listing