Country house designed by John Outram Associates in 1978-1981 and built in 1982-1986. Additions and further work, including several small extensions and the Millennium Pavilion were carried out in the late 1980s, 1999 and 2007.
Reasons for Designation
The New House (1982-1986 and later), including its surrounding terraces and hard landscaping, the orangery and Millennium Pavilion, all by John Outram Associates is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:
* as a late-C20 country house designed in a highly creative and idiosyncratic architectural language, executed with absolute consistency of vision and meticulous quality of detail;
* for its use of materials, from the innovative ‘blitzcrete’ and coloured concrete to the marquetry and polished plasterwork, creativity and craftsmanship runs throughout the building’s fabric;
* marking the evolution of Outram's architectural expression, the house reflects his innate understanding of classicism and structure, the orangery the flamboyance of his mature work, and the Millennium Pavilion, the ultimate development of his personal iconography.
* blending aspects of modernism with ideas rooted in tradition and the metaphysical, the building is as an exceptionally unusual example of a Post-Modern country house;
* as a commission which evolved over nearly 30 years, charting the career of a single architect working closely with a highly discriminating client;
* as the most important English building by John Outram, a singular figure in late-C20 architecture who built little in this country.
The New House occupies the former site of Wadhurst Park, a substantial house of 1870-1884 by Edward Tarver which incorporated a small C18 villa. The house became ruinous in the C20 and was demolished in 1952, but an orangery to the west of the house and a picturesque collection of closely-grouped cottages and ancillary buildings were left standing and continue to form part of the estate.
The site was bought in 1975 by Hans and Märit Rausing. Hans was co-developer with his brother Gad of Tetra Pak, which they had taken from a small-time invention of their father’s into one of the most successful food packaging systems in the world. Rausing appointed the Tunbridge Wells-based landscape architect, Anthony du Gard Pasley, to design the grounds and it was he who put forward John Outram’s name as a suitable architect for the house.
Early in his relationship with his new clients, Outram took the Rausings to see his one completed building, the distribution warehouse at Poyle, Surrey, and Rausing liked its flat, straightforward lines and – as a businessman – understood its simple industrialised building techniques of a steel frame and concrete roof. An early idea had been to build the new house at Wadhurst inside the shell of the orangery but Outram suggested leaving the latter as a beautiful ruin, and designed a series of linked pavilions on the site of the old house alongside it. Märit Rausing did not like the first proposals however and the end result was developed over four years as a series of designs made with her using graph paper to establish the underlying grid and layout of rooms. It was also Märit’s love of timber, a reflection of her Swedish roots, which was the greatest influence on the interior finishes of the house. The long gestation of The New House meant that every detail could receive Outram’s attention and as much as possible was prefabricated off-site; in his notes for a V and A staff visit to the house in 2011, Outram describes it as being 'built like a Factory and finished like a Palace'. He recalled of his clients in his interview for the British Library sound archive in 2007 that ‘They didn’t want a modern box, but not recognisably a country house either. Their taste was sophisticated but not wacky. They were challenging’.
After four years of design work the project advanced rapidly from 1981 when the building contract was let, although the main construction was from 1982-1986. The orangery was the last part to be finished, in 1986. Outram returned to the house several times to make small alterations and additions. He extended the house by two more bedrooms in identical style to the rest; a service kitchen was built to serve the orangery, which was given a temporary roof for the Rausing’s eldest daughter’s wedding in 1988 and a permanent roof in 2007; while a tiny Millennium Pavilion was added to one side of the house in 1999.
John Outram (1934- ) was born in Taiping, Malasia. He was set for a military career but was discouraged by national service, and discovered architecture while serving in Canada. Studying at Regent’s Street Polytechnic and the Architectural Association in 1955-1960, his architectural education was rooted in modernist thinking. However, subsequently working for the London County Council and then in private practice for Fitzroy Robinson and Louis de Soissons, he gradually became disillusioned with modernism. He began to quietly study traditional buildings, classicism and ancient mythology, assembling a collection of antiquarian books in which he engrossed himself. He set up his own practice in 1973 and had designed only two interiors before being offered the job of designing the warehouses at Poyle for McKay Securities Group (McKay Trading Estate, 1976-1978, listed Grade II).
The flat elevations of Poyle became the model for those at Wadhurst, the latter offering Outram the opportunity to develop his inventive handling of materials, in particular the casting and colouring of concrete and his proprietary ‘blitzcrete’. At the heart of the building is Outram’s innate understanding of classicism and structure, introduced to which is an iconography which comes to saturate his later work. His ‘Robot order’ – columns housing services - is found in an early form at Wadhurst in the house, in a more characteristic form in the remodelled orangery and culminates in its ultimate iteration, realised in miniature form, in the Millennium Pavilion of 1999. New House essentially charts Outram’s career from 1978 to 2007 and with it the evolution of his highly personal architectural language.
Outram is classed as a Post-Modernist architect, although he dislikes the term, preferring to call his approach instead ‘popular classicism’ (B Lawson, Design in Mind 1994, p.71). Post-Modernism was a movement and style prevalent in architecture between about 1975 and 1990, defined in terms of its relationship with modern architecture and characterised by its plurality, engagement with urban context and setting, reference to older architectural traditions and use of metaphor and symbolism. It accepts the technology of industrialised society but expresses it in more diverse ways than the machine imagery of the contemporary High-Tech style. Separate but parallel American and European strands of Post-Modernism converged in England in the late 1970s to produce works by architects of international significance, and distinctive voices unique to Britain such as Outram.
New country houses after 1945 are relatively few and have tended to be either overtly traditional or modernist. The New House therefore, represents a highly unusual example of a Post Modern country house. It has an uncompromising order and solidity to its elevations, a formal H-shaped plan with rooms arranged in enfilades and the materials and finishes are rich. Yet its formal language is highly idiosyncratic, classical and metaphysical, realised through modern forms of construction and non-traditional materials. It is the product of a creative, consistent and meticulous architectural vision. Standing unselfconsciously beside a picturesque assortment of older estate buildings, its architecture is bold but unaffected and ageless. The nature of its author and the particular circumstances of its commission have resulted in a house with no obvious comparators.
The house won a Concrete Society Award in 1986, the Sunday Times Award for the best new country house built in the 1980s, and the Bayer Award for Colour in Architecture the same year. In 1986 Clive Aslet in Country Life (p.168) described it as ‘one of the most imaginative houses to have been built in this decade’.
Country house designed by John Outram Associates in 1978-1981 and built in 1982-1986, with additions and further work by the same practice in the late 1980s, 1999 and 2007.
MATERIALS: the house has a steel frame clad in bands of brick and travertine, divided into bays by concrete-clad piers. The bases of these piers have exposed pebble aggregate and a narrow smooth-faced band with the surface acid-etched to reveal crushed limestone; the main piers are of crushed bricks of different colours set in mortar, a material with a terrazzo-like appearance which Outram terms ‘blitzcrete’; and the capitals are cast lacquer-coated concrete with a black marble aggregate, appearing as spheres within cubes, the convex circular projections containing lights and acting as rainwater overflows. The piers are hollow and contain services, accessible from within the house. The glazing is held in deep-sectioned timber frames with some bays being fully glazed, doors and windows are subdivided by heavy mullions and transoms, flat on the outer face, segmental on the inner face. Running around the building is a cornice beam of green concrete, incised with sloping grooves, while the chimneys and flues are topped with more lacquered black cubes.
The roofs over the three ranges (east, west and central) are curved in section and now covered in copper, largely hidden behind the cornice beam which acts as a low parapet. The original roofing material was concrete, with Outram designing the current replacement.
PLAN: the site is elevated, the house standing on a terrace approached from an entrance driveway to the north, with the land falling away to the south and east giving far reaching views across the High Weald landscape.
The house is planned on a grid with a 900mm module, this being the width of the piers. The application of this grid is expressed throughout the exterior, interior and out onto the terraces and hard landscaping around the house; like a vestigial hypostyle, or in Outram’s developing iconography, the infinite forest. The house is a single storey in height and the footprint is an irregular ‘H’, the two side wings, east and west, running north to south, and the crossbar in between containing the entrance hall to the north and the drawing room to the south. The plan creates two courtyards, the one to the north being an entrance forecourt and the one to the south a garden terrace. It is in the latter that in 1999 Outram created the Millennium Pavilion.
The layout is essentially a series of four intersecting enfilades, two running north/south, separated by two running east/west. The east wing, extended in identical materials by two rooms to the north in 1988, contains bedrooms and bathrooms, a library and study. The west wing contains a dining room to the south, the kitchen, utility and laundry room. At the centre of the house the entrance hall leads east and west through small side halls to the wings and north to the large south-facing drawing room which is at the centre of the east/west enfilade of reception rooms (library to the east and dining room to the west). The dining room and a servery, the latter added by Outram in 1988, both link through to the orangery to the west.
EXTERIOR: the building’s aesthetic is very much a product of its distinctive cladding materials, applied with Classical proportions to a three-dimensional realisation of the tartan grid on which it is planned. The elevations are a flat composition of vertical and horizontal bands of colour and texture, curves coming only in the gable ends where the green cornice beam expresses the profile of the roofs, and in the spherical projections of the pier capitals and chimneys. This use of coloured banding is a motif familiar in Outram’s later buildings: a geological stratigraphy, here capped with the green of a forest canopy.
The entrance front is a powerful composition; almost fully blind, double doors painted indigo, ‘the colour of shadow’ (J Outram, 'Listing Post-Modern Buildings', 2015, p 3), reached via a shallow pyramidal ramp, are set within the central range. Two square chimneys with their distinctive black cubic caps rise from behind and the whole is flanked by the projecting side wings which enclose the paved forecourt. The strong linear geometry is contrasted by the three thick segmental curves of the cornice beam expressing the roof over each wing. All of the elevations have the same refinement of colour, surface and form but the elevations to the east and south are more heavily glazed, taking advantage of the views.
INTERIOR: the interior of the house is highly bespoke, with Outram’s hand showing in almost every detail, from the laundry room to the drawing room. It is more conventionally domestic in character than the exterior, with a greater use of natural materials, particularly wood. As mentioned above, the expression of the underlying grid continues, if more subtly, throughout; it is found in the flooring pattern and incised grooves in the ceilings and walls, marking the position of notional walls and columns.
The entrance hall has a tomb-like quality, top-lit by two circular rooflights generating columns of light or ‘columna lucis’ as termed by Outram (J Outram, 44 Lectures, 17-18), casting down onto bases inscribed on the floor: polished travertine inlaid with two dials of a giant compass marking 365 days, 52 weeks, 13 lunar months, 12 roman months and 24 hours. The hall has apsed ends with walls of polished stucco with bands of burr elm edged in aluminium. A door of avodiré wood with marquetry inlay forms a deliberate pinch point leading into the drawing room, transitioning from a dimly-lit space into one of great light.
The curved roof over the centre of the drawing room becomes a vaulted ceiling within, lined with veneered plywood, scored into panels divided by the grid lines. The walls mainly use pigmented plaster that was heated and waxed to give its lustrous finish, a technique called stucco lustro. There are similarly vaulted ceilings to the library and dining room (with green plaster to the walls). The connecting pairs of double doors are inlaid with marquetry giving a trompe l’oeil lattice effect, echoing the actual latticework fanlights above. The dining room has columns of stucco lustro and wood veneer, and built-in cupboards with marquetry doors.
A hierarchy of spaces within the house reflects the different functions of the various rooms, but there is consistency of detail throughout. Circular, cylindrical and segmental forms reoccur in mouldings and fittings as does the gridded motif; ceilings are panelled timber and where flat rather than vaulted, such as in the bedrooms and bathrooms, mirrors are inlaid between curved-profile timber battens or used at cornice level, creating the sense of an extended space beyond the confines of the room.
HARD LANDSCAPING: the hard landscaping around the house is a continuation of its architecture out into the landscape. The courtyards to the north and south and terrace to the east are paved in contrasting dark and light paviors, the lighter used to express the grid on which the house is built. To the front of the house, setts brought by Rausing from Berlin are arranged in a large circle. To the south the grid of the courtyard dissolves out into the grassed terrace as if partially submerged below the ground, before the land falls away. A long, stepped terrace runs down the east side of the building, connecting the platform on which it stands with the lawn beyond. Square columns of timber trellis-work, with aluminium wire globe capitals stand to the east and west. These were intended to have climbers grow in and through them to create green columns, but the planting has had limited success. By the front and side doors are free-standing cast concrete boot cleaners, like truncated columns with a lobed section and domed top, they have a slotted opening lined with brushes.
ORANGERY: the arcaded stone walls of the Victorian orangery form the basis of its polychromatic reimagining by Outram. Internally, a pierced frieze of brick and clay tile supports a heavy green cornice with blue concrete dentils. Around the edge, engaged red brick and black concrete columns of 3ft diameter conceal services and structural steels. There are raised planters faced in black engineering brick and the floor is laid in a striking geometric pattern of black and white marble. It was given a plastic roof in 1988, which was replaced in about 2001 by one of polycarbonate and in 2007 by a permanent roof of steel and glass.
The orangery connects to the dining room through a glass-roofed anti-chamber on its east side. There is a similar arrangement on the west side but with an ornamental pool and fountain and behind is a brick and tile lean-to with cloakrooms. The west anti-chamber leads outside to a raised gothic loggia lined with lustre-glazed geometric mosaic tiles in shades of pink and white.
MILLENIUM PAVILION: on the south terrace, against the east wing of the house, stands the small Millennium Pavilion of 1999. Intended as a veranda for sitting out, the pavilion takes the form of a louvred roof supported at the back by the side of the house and at the front by two concrete columns.
The pavilion is rich with the primordial iconography which weaves through much of Outram’s work. The pre-cast columns are multi-coloured and have five stages; they are the ultimate realisation of the Robot order. Each column has four white legs, surmounted with a square blue base, faces set with black marble pebbles and the corners cut with an ogee to give a wave-like form and to bring the section to an octagon. From here an octagonal drum formed of green concrete with coloured brick inclusions, including brick made of cobalt, rises and is cut away to form vertical green leaves, and thence a cluster of cylinders with a blue and white spiral pattern. Then there is a drum of lead crystal and above is a shiny black capital. The columns support cylindrical stainless steel beams, the ends of which are incised like the gills of a shark and incorporate lights. Above again are copper mouldings, the fascia of a blind, and on top of that a roof of stainless steel or aluminium louvres that open to let in sunlight or close to keep water out. When the pavilion is illuminated, light is cast down through the centre of the columns, radiating out through the lead crystal drums and creating a pool of light at the bases between the four legs. Outram explains the stages of the columns, from the bottom upwards, as representing the gestation of our species and of the individual; the emergence from sea to land, or for the individual, the trauma of birth and experience of gravity; next comes air, atmosphere or speech; then light or the granting of sight and finally the development of higher thought. (J Outram, 'Some 'reading' for the Post Modernism Expedition...', October 2011, pp 49-52)