Terrace of houses and flats, built 1977-1979, for a housing trust.
Reasons for Designation
105-123 St Mark’s Road and 1-3 Cowper Terrace of 1977-1979 by Jeremy and Fenella Dixon is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* in the way the scheme draws upon traditional urban street patterns and housing types with allusions to both modern and historicist motifs creating a stylish and idiosyncratic blend of colour and detail;
* in its innovative planning which maximises access to private open space and to light;
* as a formative project by (Sir) Jeremy Dixon, founder partner of Dixon Jones, and Fenella Dixon, his then-practice partner.
* as a seminal work of British Post-Modern architecture, exhibited at the 1980 Venice Biennale and having an important influence on late-C20 housing.
Jeremy and Fenella Dixon were commissioned in 1975 by the Kensington Housing Trust to design 24 houses and 16 flats for a site in North Kensington. The Dixons, with their friend Edward Jones, had won the 1973 competition for Northamptonshire County Hall, but the project stalled. Its abandonment coincided with a wider loss of faith in the Modern Movement, experienced by Dixon any many of his contemporaries. Visiting towns and cities to talk about the Northamptonshire project, he was dismayed to encounter places that had been mutilated in the name of ‘urban improvement’. These experiences prompted Dixon to turn from the modernist abstraction of his earlier work to a historically-informed and contextual Post-Modernism.
Their design for St Mark’s Road, Jeremy Dixon wrote in 1976, was an attempt to ‘respect the scale and order of the area and to make some play with diverse styles in surrounding streets’ (Architectural Review, 1976, p 13). Of the scheme he later commented ‘It is not only Post-Modern in the sense that categorises all work outside the Modern Movement, but also in that it tries to enrich and extend the scope of the language and to tackle the subject of decoration. The scheme pays tribute to a London tradition - the use of eclecticism to express the individuality of houses or rows of houses - and in doing so, tries to involve contemporary as well as historical references (Architectural Design, 1981, p 107). The scheme was built in 1977-1979 and exhibited at the 1980 architecture exhibition at the Venice biennale. Jeremy Dixon later developed the typology at Lanark Road (1981-1983) and Ashmill Street (1983-1985) in Maida Vale, and at Compass Point (1984-1987) on the Isle of Dogs.
The St Mark's Road scheme is a primary example of the historically-informed contextualism which went on to identify Dixon as a key exponent of English Post-Modernism and was influential not just on Dixon's own work but on that of others also. Examples include the Highcroft Estate by London Borough of Islington’s Architect’s Department, 1983-1986, and Colquhoun & Miller’s housing at Shrubland Road and Albion Drive, 1984. Dixon's scheme is noted by Kenneth Powell (in Twentieth Century Architecture 10) as a watershed moment in social housing.
(Sir) Jeremy Dixon (b 1939) attended Merchant Taylors’ School and the Architectural Association (AA) School of Architecture where he met his future practice partner Edward Jones, and Fenella Clemens, whom he married in 1964. On graduating he worked for Alison and Peter Smithson, and from 1965 to 1970 teamed up with AA contemporaries Christopher Cross, Michael Gold and Jones at Frederick MacManus and Partners. This loose collective, nicknamed the ‘Grunt Group’, went on to design housing schemes for the Milton Keynes Development Corporation, including Netherfield. In 1984, Dixon (with William Jack of Building Design Partnership) won the 1984 competition to redesign the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
In 1989 Dixon established a partnership with Edward Jones (b 1939) initially to work on the Royal Opera House project (1984-2000). Projects undertaken by Dixon Jones include the winning competition entry for Venice bus station (1990, unbuilt), the Ondaatje Wing at the National Portrait Gallery in London (1994–2000), Darwin College study centre in Cambridge (1989–1994), the Saïd Business School in Oxford (phase 1 completed 2001, phase 2 completed 2011) and King’s Place, London (completed 2008). Dixon was knighted in the New Year’s Honours List in 2000.
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.
Terrace of houses and flats to designs by Jeremy and Fenella Dixon, 1977-1979.
MATERIALS: load-bearing brick cross walls, concrete floors, timber windows, brown facing bricks with red brick and white-painted cast stone dressings.
PLAN: the narrow site is situated at the acutely-angled junction of St Mark’s Road and Cowper Terrace. There are 18 narrow-fronted houses over semi-basement flats, arranged in handed pairs fronting St Mark’s Road. There are a further three pairs to Cowper Terrace, with a detached three-storey block of flats at the corner. External steps give access up to the houses and down to the flats from street level. The two pairs at the north and south ends of St Mark’s Road and the Cowper Terrace group are of three-storeys above the basement flats, whereas the intervening units on St Marks Road are of two storeys above the basement flats. The elevations are square-on to the street, but behind the plots are cranked at 45° in order to contrive longer gardens and greater privacy.
The houses have half-landing staircases which divide the front and back rooms, with ground floor bedroom and kitchen; first-floor living room, bathroom and bedroom and, for the larger houses, second-floor bedroom with rear terrace. Each basement flat occupies the full width of two adjacent plots but does not extend to the rear of the terrace. Instead, the stairs of the houses above extend down to basement level, where there is a further bedroom and garden access.
EXTERIOR: the terrace is composed of symmetrical pairs of dwellings in brown brick, their shared gable parapet having crow-step coping in cast stone. The central bays break forward at ground and first floors, with a slate-clad gable-end and projecting party wall in red brick with white-painted cast stone coping. These projections have gridded walls of blue-painted timber which accommodate blue front doors, windows and small, square, spandrel panels of opaque white and blue glass; the upper floor windows extend over the brick side walls, creating a square, glazed, sitting-room bay at first floor. The flanking casement windows to the upper-ground floor windows have round-headed glazing set under square heads, and a triangular pattern of red bricks in place of a lintel (also found over the second floor windows in the larger houses). The first-floor windows are narrow, single-light casements.
To the rear, the elevations have a saw-tooth effect from the angle of the plots. Each house has a set of blue-painted French doors at ground and first floors, opening into the gardens and raised terrace respectively. The terraces have a glazed balustrade. The taller houses have a second terrace on the top floor also. The gardens are divided by brick walls as part of the original scheme, but end boundaries appear to be later and ad hoc.
The corner block of flats has a straight parapet with a pyramidal roof behind. It turns the corner with a large square bay with a red-brick triangular pier at its centre
INTERIORS: the interiors were not inspected (2017) but it is understood that while they have been refitted, the floor plans remain intact.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the dwellings are reached by straight flights of external steps leading half a storey down to the basement flats and up to the houses, separated by a brick balustrade with cast stone coping. Blue-painted steel railings to the stairs and around the raised entrances echo the timber grid-work of the projecting bays. There are low brick boundary walls and gate piers with pyramidal caps (a humorous reference to the Dixons’ Northamptonshire County Hall scheme). The gate piers are hollow with timber doors to the rear and serve as bin stores.
The boundary wall curves in at the entrance to the flats, off St Mark’s Road; this treatment allowed for the retention of two pre-existing London Plane trees. The wall in the boundary around the corner block has cylindrical piers.
To the rear the garden party walls, and those behind Cowper Terrace, are original to the scheme.