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22-32 Winscombe Street

A Grade II Listed Building in Highgate, London

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.5626 / 51°33'45"N

Longitude: -0.1428 / 0°8'34"W

OS Eastings: 528831

OS Northings: 186491

OS Grid: TQ288864

Mapcode National: GBR DV.BMY

Mapcode Global: VHGQL.GZVH

Entry Name: 22-32 Winscombe Street

Listing Date: 26 September 2014

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1410085

Location: Camden, London, N19

County: London

District: Camden

Electoral Ward/Division: Highgate

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Camden

Traditional County: Middlesex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: St Anne Brookfield

Church of England Diocese: London

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Highgate

Summary

Five houses and studio, designed 1963 and built 1965-6, by Neave Brown for the Pentad Housing Society, including No. 30 for himself. Tony Hunt, structural engineer. Max Fordham, services engineer.

Description

Five houses and studio, designed 1963 and built 1965-6, by Neave Brown for the Pentad Housing Society, including No. 30 for himself. Tony Hunt, structural engineer. Max Fordham, services engineer.

MATERIALS: concrete block crosswall construction with in-situ concrete terrace, cantilevered slabs and wall beam. Flint-lime brick facings. Flat roofs.

PLAN: Nos. 24-32 form a short terrace at the end of a cul-de sac, with a paved area for car parking in front. The overall plan makes use of the sloping site and the large south-facing garden plot behind. The five houses are identically laid out. Each is of three storeys, connected internally by a central spiral stair. The main entrance is on the first floor, accessed from the street via a second half-turn spiral stair and a small balcony. This opens into a hallway with cloakroom and bathroom to the left and, at the back of the house, a large kitchen/dining area with doors onto a broad rear terrace, from which a third spiral stair descends to the garden. The lower ground floor was intended as children’s accommodation, and has its own street entrance and bathroom to give adolescent offspring a degree of independence from their parents; there is a single bedroom at the front (a perfect cube on plan) and a large flexible space at the back, divisible into two separate rooms by means of a sliding wall. The upper floor contains the main living area – at the back, overlooking the garden – which is separated by a pivot door from the master bedroom at the front. No. 22 forms a single-storey annexe to the western end of the terrace, comprising a small courtyard (now roofed in) with a single-storey studio space behind.

EXTERIOR: the street frontage forms a complex but orderly composition. The upper floor is cantilevered, and the lower storeys recessed beneath. Within the recess, each house has a concrete spiral stair in a semi-circular concrete enclosure; this leads up to the main door, in front of which is a small balcony with a timber and wire-mesh balustrade. Below it is the entrance to the lower ground-floor vestibule, whose end wall – brought forward beneath the balcony – is of glass bricks. The cantilevered upper floor is of fair-faced brick regularly punctuated by square window openings, its regularity providing a foil to the complex assemblage of forms below. All window-frames, doors etc are of heavy dark-stained timber construction. The studio to the left is largely concealed behind a blank brick wall, its central gate replaced with a door when the courtyard behind was roofed over.

The garden front is a lighter variant on the same composition. Again, the upper floor is cantilevered, but with sliding picture windows to the living rooms forming an almost continuous band of glazing. A deep terrace runs right across at first-floor, level, again with a timber and mesh balustrade, and with mesh screens separating each property from the next. Full-height sliding glass doors open onto this terrace from the dining area behind. As at the front, a series of spiral staircases lead down to ground level, but here they project outward rather than being recessed, and are of light steel rather than heavy concrete construction. The lower ground floor has full-height glazed doors to the garden, of complex quadripartite form to accommodate the divisible space behind.

INTERIORS: these have seen various degrees of adaptation to meet the changing needs of residents, No. 24 being much the least altered. The following description gives typical surviving features. The chief internal focus is the spiral staircase – of post-tensioned timber construction in a vertical boarded surround, the treads, risers and handrails being of birch ply. The original floors, now mostly renewed, were also of birch. Walls are of painted blockwork. The kitchen/dining area features a cantilevered tiled concrete work-surface with inset hobs and sink, and with plywood-fronted cupboards over and drawers beneath (intact in No. 24, altered elsewhere). The brick-paved rear terrace extends inward to form a heated raised step within the dining area, mediating the transition between inside and out. The sliding partitions and wall cupboards in the lower ground-floor space survive in most houses. The upper floor features a circular skylight above the stairwell and a rotating partition between living room and master bedroom; the latter contains a built-in cupboard with a small sink (altered or removed in most houses). No. 22, the studio, has been transformed by the infilling of the courtyard; the new elements are not of special interest and do not form part of the listing.

SETTING: the garden plot at the rear of the site reflects Brown’s ideas about the use of shared space, with a gradual transition from private areas (the paved back-yards contained by planting and by the projecting spiral stairs) via a semi-communal area (a grass bank running the length of the terrace) into the fully communal garden area with its mature trees and shrubbery. Shared facilities include a barbecue pit and a play area. The garden and its associated structures do not form part of the listing.

History

This group of houses was the first independent work by the architect Neave Brown (b.1929), best known for his later work at the London Borough of Camden. Brown studied at the Architectural Association in the early 1950s, going on to work for Lyons Israel Ellis (a popular place for a first job and a training ground for architects of the calibre of Stirling and Gowan, Alan Colquhoun and Richard MacCormac) and Middlesex County Council. In 1962 he set up in private practice, and the following year he drew up designs for a terrace of five houses at Winscombe Street, Dartmouth Park, on behalf of the Pentad housing association - a small co-operative whose membership comprised the architect himself and four of his friends, plus their respective families. At his clients' insistence, Brown obtained a separate brief from each family, before coming up with a single standard plan that fulfilled them all. The project was initially put on hold when Brown departed for a teaching stint at Cornell, but in 1964 a 100 per cent loan from the borough (the result of a Conservative government policy designed to encourage housing associations) made it possible to acquire the site and begin work. The project engineer was Tony Hunt, one of the original members of Pentad, and afterwards a leading figure in the British High-Tech movement, while the services engineer was Max Fordham, who later founded an innovative consulting practice. By the time building work was completed in 1965, Hunt and another member had dropped out of Pentad, to be replaced by the architects Ed Jones (latterly of Dixon Jones) and Michael and Patty Hopkins.

The five houses, each of 1,150 sq ft, were built to the Parker-Morris standards first introduced in 1961. The concept is that of a traditional London terrace given a modern form, with influences ranging from inter-war Modernism - e.g. Mart Stam's designs for the Weissenhofsiedlung exhibition at Stuttgart (1927) - to Corbusier's seminal Roq et Rob project (1948), Atelier 5's Siedlung Halen at Berne (1959-61) and, in the British context, Howell and Amis’s houses at South Hill Park, Hampstead (1956). Key features include the provision of self-contained and independently accessible children's accommodation on the lower ground floor, the indoor/outdoor space of the first-floor dining area and garden terrace, and the placement of the living room at the top of the house to maximise light and views. No. 22, a self-contained painting studio, was provided for the artists Lewin and Inger Bassingthwaighte, resident at No. 24. Part of the site's initial attraction lay in the extensive garden plot at the rear. This was enlarged shortly after the houses were completed with the acquisition of a neighbouring tennis court, and was laid out in accordance with Brown's developing ideas about the need for well-defined semi-private and semi-communal space. Use of the outdoor areas was (and remains) subject to a set of rules drawn up by the architect himself, which amount to a sort of manifesto for the development and the way of life it was intended to foster. The rules proclaim the shared garden to be 'a rare and precious place...perhaps unique in London' whose 'combination of freedom, community and privacy is valuable and vulnerable', and call for mutual consideration in the use of the space and collaboration in its upkeep. Rule 8 reads: 'Members will participate from time to time in group maintenance of the garden and forecourt. Such events may be followed by a party.'

In 1965, the year Winscombe Street was completed, Brown joined the architect's department at the newly-formed London Borough of Camden. Under chief architect Sydney Cook, Camden became known as one of the most architecturally ambitious and innovative local authorities in the country - a reputation confirmed by Brown's two celebrated housing estates at Dunboyne [Fleet] Road (designed 1966, built 1971-2) and Alexandra Road (designed 1968, built 1973-8). In terms of materials, details and plan form, Winscombe Street was the prototype for these later schemes, and similar features - from the characteristic window joinery to the use of spiral stairs, terraced sections and carefully-defined spatial zoning - can be seen in other projects by Brown's Camden colleagues such as Peter Tábori, Gordon Benson and Alan Forsyth.

Reasons for Listing

22-32 Winscombe Street, a terrace of houses of 1963-6 by the architect Neave Brown, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: a skilfully-composed group of houses, inspired both by Continental Modernist prototypes and by the traditional London terrace, which forms the first independent work by the distinguished housing architect Neave Brown;
* Planning interest: built for the architect's own family and those of a small number of his friends, the house plans - devised with Brown's characteristic mastery of domestic space - embody various innovative features and reflect a distinctive, community-spirited vision of home life;
* Influence: a prototype for the celebrated public housing schemes that Brown and his colleagues went on to design for the London Borough of Camden.

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