Private house, 1959-60 by Michael Brawne for himself and his family.
Reason for Listing
31 South Hill Park, 1959-60 by Michael Brawne for himself and his family, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Design interest: a powerful vertical emphasis and three-dimensional quality determined by the window module, give it an authority that is unusual in a post-war house of this relatively early date;
* Plan: flexibly-planned private house, that takes advantage of the sloping site, the principal open-plan living area being on the first floor, connecting to the garden via a bridge, and above a self-contained ground floor ’granny’ flat, itself an early example of this distinction in plan;
* Use of materials: external treatment that is sympathetic to the existing C19 houses and simple internal treatment of contrasting white painted brick and timber linings and fittings;
* Intactness: little altered, externally and internally, retaining its plan, determined by its built-in fixtures and furniture, most of which were built by the architect; * Context: designed to fit into an existing late Victorian street, it is one of a group of post-war private houses in South Hill Park, and an example of Camden Council’s approach towards innovative design for houses and housing in the early post-war decades;
* Architect: Brawne was recognised as an authority on library, museum and exhibition design and achieved distinction in practice, education and scholarship, but built relatively few buildings.
Michael Brawne (1925-2003) was born in Vienna, and was evacuated to Scotland in 1939. His father was a painter, teaching at the Bauhaus. He read mathematics at Edinburgh University, and after the Second World War enrolled at the Architectural Association before studying for a master's degree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Following a year in San Francisco he returned to London where he worked for the Architects Co-Partnership, the British Transport Commission and Denys Lasdun, where projects included the masterplan and buildings for the University of East Anglia.
Setting up in practice on his own, he achieved distinction in practice, education and scholarship. He became an authority on library, museum and exhibition design, designing the National Library of Sri Lanka, and a number of projects in Germany, publishing the 'New Museum' (1966) and 'Libraries: architecture and equipment' (1970). Exhibition design for the Arts Council and the Tate, included Gabo (1966), Picasso Sculpture, Ceramics and Graphics (1967), Henry Moore (1968), Claes Oldenburg (1970), and notably Art in Revolution (1971). The exhibition 'Architecture for Information' for the British Council at the Venice Biennale followed in 1996. He taught first at Cambridge University before appointment to the Chair of Architecture at Bath University (1978-1990) where he collaborated with Ted Happold to create a joint school of engineering and architecture.
He was influenced by the work of the theorist Karl Popper, which informed his own writing, notably, 'From Idea to Building' (1992) and 'Architectural Thought and the Design Process' (2003).
31 South Hill Park was one of a group of new, infill houses built by architects for themselves in South Hill Park (see also 78 South Hill Park, 1963-65 by Brian Housden and 80-90 South Hill Park, a terrace of six houses, built 1954-6 to the designs of Stanley Amis and William and Gillian Howell, for themselves and four other families). In the early post-war decades Camden Council stood out for its approach towards innovative, modernist design in houses and housing, which was later acknowledged through the exhibition Modern Homes in Camden, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the RIBA in 1984. At 31 South Hill Park, Michael Brawne was keen to establish a new vernacular which would fit in with the Victorian houses which predominate in the street. No.29 was built by TG Ingersoll shortly afterwards to match it. Whilst structurally distinct, the two houses and families shared the garden at the rear. As such it is one of an important group of small family homes built in London at the time by architects for their own use. Some were built on tight infill sites that were more readily affordable, and whilst challenging, gave the opportunity for exploring ideas beyond the constraints of a conventional client-architect contract.
Private house, 1959-60 by Michael Brawne for himself and his family.
STRUCTURE AND MATERIALS: brick-bearing walls are of cavity construction, with sandlime facing bricks, floors are concrete beam and screed. End elevations have vertical timber studs and horizontal members between floors and at roof level, all in stained softwood. Opening lights are louvres, except the hinged glass doors on to the rear bridge. The felted roof has a wooden structure with wood-wool panels. The timber bridge has been rebuilt to match the original. Some windows have been replaced to match the originals but at a higher specification.
PLAN: the house was very carefully thought through, providing flexible living space that could be adapted to the changing family dynamic. The three-storey, semi-detached house fills the full width of the narrow site, the slope of which rises steeply from north (front) to south (rear). The ground floor is above street level, and is reached by a flight of concrete steps from the pavement, and its rear looks on to the steep bank of the garden beneath the bridge. This ground floor is occupied by a flat, with a bed/living room at the front, and bathroom and kitchen (formerly dressing room) looking out into the garden at the rear. Narrow open-tread stairs run up the west side of the house. The main living space is on the split-level first floor and is open plan, with a living room at the rear lower level, while the higher dining area and kitchen is reached by two steps. The kitchen is partially screened by the fitted units. A door from the living area gives access on to a bridge link with the garden, with which this floor is level. The second floor has two inter-connected children's rooms at the front, originally communicating but now separate, and the main bedroom and bathroom at the back, separated by a narrow corridor.
EXTERIOR: both street (north) and garden (south) elevations have a strong vertical emphasis in the use of stained timber and in the pattern of glazing, fixed and louvred. The street frontage is that of a town house, and is the more private of the two, with brick panels in addition to the glazing. The rear is predominantly glazed at first and second floor levels, the ground floor is largely hidden, due to the slope of the site, and has two pod-like projecting windows. The east wall lies very close to the site boundary, and although detached when first built, a house in a similar style (by TG Ingersoll) has subsequently been built on to the west wall.
INTERIOR: interiors are deliberately simple, with timber predominating, and retain their original fittings and fixtures, most of which were made by Michael Brawne. Walls are brick, painted white, or lined with timber boarding, ceilings are timber boarded or plasterboard. Floors have grey linoleum tiles, replacing the originals, with underfloor heating. Flush timber doors and recessed panels above are painted, contrasting with the timber wall cladding. The house retains its original fitted furniture, notably in the main first floor living space where a fitted unit separates the open-plan space, providing views through, with bookshelves on the living side, cupboards on the kitchen side. A roof panel above the fitted sofa reveals a view of the sky via the upstairs corridor. Stairs have open treads and again provide glimpses up and down and into the living room. On the upper level, an internal window within one of the front, children's, bedroom's projects into the stair well. On the second floor, the monopitch roof, rising from front to back, is expressed internally, creating a higher ceilinged main bedroom and with water tanks concealed above the bathroom. Bedrooms have built-in wardrobes, beds, and shelving.
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.