An ‘ingenious’ remodelling of a 1960s house in Highgate has won the 2011 RIBA Manser Medal for the best new house or major extension in the UK
Winner: Duggan Morris Architects
Location Highgate Village, London. Photography James Brittain
This sensitive and rigorous renovation of a 1960s Brutalist househas taken an austere structure, with its unpromising street view and maze of cellular rooms, and made it into a house that lifts the spirits.
The architects’ approach throughout has been to question what is strictly necessary to the functionality of the house and to pare back accordingly. Hence the removal of two internal walls that ran the full depth of the house, which have been replaced by a straightforward steel structure.
This means the main room is flooded with natural light, while the intimacy of the bedrooms has been retained. Two of these open out on to the garden, as does the main living-eating-cooking space, while the mezzanine master bedroom overlooks it across a strip of planted roof. The garden is a delight; a rectangle of landscape that in summer doubles the living space via the fully-glazed sliding doors.
Despite the extensive renovation, the character and qualities of the original structure remain intact, taking on an altogether different quality when set against the sensitive interventions that define the project.
This has been a labour of love, approached with an appreciationand care for the original house and its history. The clients, both considerable architects in their own rights, have taken the sensible but unusual step of calling in other architects to realise their dream. The result is a joy to step into. In Michael Manser’s words, ‘this is truly a house of its time and of the moment’.
Mary Duggan and Joe Morris
Background and planning considerations
Highgate is one of the most expensive London suburbs to live in and it has an active conservation body, the Highgate Society, engaged in the protection of its character. This building, a low-rise Modernist property constructed in the 1960s, was designed and built by a well-known local architect couple who lived there in the last years of their lives; Douglas Stirling Craig, and his wife Margaret.
Stirling worked for Coventry City Council, Stevenage Development Corporation, and with Margaret set up architectural practice in the late 1950s, completing a number of notable projects for private residential clients in a Brutalist style, with exposed surfaces inside and out. This approach is evident in the design of 3A Hampstead Lane, built in 1968.
The original building featured four or five bedrooms, along with reception rooms, a kitchen, dining room, utility room, two bathrooms, an integrated garage and a 60-foot garden overlooked by the glass-dominated rear of the house.
The primary palette of materials consisted of a light-coloured, fair-faced blockwork skin, both inside and out, with a silver sand and white cement mix. This was punctuated with mill-finish aluminium window frames and coping with flush, pre-finished white hardboard-faced doors to the front and flank elevations. To the rear, the primary material was glazing, again in mill-finish aluminium, with panels in a clear lacquered birch ply. The window surrounds were completed in a plain deal pine and the window sills in mahogany.
Internally, the floors were laid with a white-flecked vinyl asbestos tile. All the interior joists and woodwork were in plain wood, except for the top of the T and G planking on the first floor. There were no skirting boards or door trims, and the only places with a dropped ceiling were the kitchen, entry and utility room. The original heating was underfloor electric embedded in the screed.
The renovation focused on retaining the integrity of the original house, through extensive research and analysis of historic documents, drawings, photographs and archived material. Much of the work involved cleaning and restoring the exposed blockwork, while the glazing system was designed to closely accord with the original single-glazed system, but with modern standards and U-values.
Where interventions to the layout of the internal spaces were required, this enabled clear communication of new structural elements, including the new dark-grey steel frame, which spans the key spaces in place of previous load-bearing walls. The project also included a fully integrated scheme for the landscape, which is now more connected to the internal spaces.
Client: Graham Stirk and Susie Le Good
Contractor: ME Construction
Structural Engineer: Elliott Wood
Contract value: £500,000
Date of completion: Not known
Gross internal area: 200m2
The shortlisted schemes:
New Mission Hall by Adam Richards Architects
Location Plaistow, West Sussex Photography AdamRichards Architects
This little house is as perfect as it is difficult to describe. It sits in the crook of an old drovers’ road, on the site of a former chapel that lost its battle with the roots of an ancient oak. The oak remains, its branches all but cradling the upper room of one of the two offset buildings that form the house.
The building that faces the road evokes the old chapel, with its apsidal curved end wall and simple pitched roof. The other looks out over the Sussex countryside and has more of a pavilion shape and an origami-like duo-pitch roof.
The two are joined together by the entrance and staircase, which leads into the garden. Here, lavender beds mask rainwater harvesting and ground-source heat pumps.
The more conventional building is faced in reclaimed local earthenware tiles and has a soft rounded end that leads you to the entrance. Once inside you have a view through to the garden and the setting sun.
Downstairs, all is solid and secure, with cave-like black stone, little niches and white brick barrel-vaulted ceilings. Upstairs is airy and light, with irregular oak floorboards and full-height windows in deep reveals with bespoke walnut furniture dividing the spaces and housing useful things, like plates and PCs.
This is a beautiful design on a small and difficult site. It is an accomplished and unique piece of architecture, simultaneously complex and simple.
Client: Nicholas Taylor and Dean Wheeler
Structural Engineer: Structure Workshop
Contract value: Undisclosed
Date of completion: October 2010
Gross internal area: 150m2
The Balancing Barn by MVRDV with Mole Architects
Location Thorrington, Suffolk Photography Edmund Sumner
In one sense, it’s not difficult to do something dramatic in the flat hinterland of the Suffolk coast. But what the architects have achieved here is truly unique. There is more of a tradition of radical, single-minded projects in MVRDV’s homeland of the Netherlands; it takes a brave client to allow them to translat such ideas to East Anglia.
This then is a Dutch barn for a very English landscape. Or, given its mirrored metal cladding, a stretched Airstream caravan about to topple over the edge. Just seven metres wide, half of its 30-metre length is bravely cantilevered. The engineer has pushed the structure – and its users – as far as possible, even opening up a window in the living room floor to demonstrate their daring from the inside as well as the outside.
There is a delightful sense of the accidental about this project that would be much more in line with the feeling of a barnconversion or something that had developed over time. Yet there is consistency too, in the use of ash panels on walls, floors and ceilings, giving an almost carved quality to the interior that is cleverly at odds with the slight defections which remind the visitor that for half the time they are suspended in mid-air.
This was designed as a holiday home for small groups of people to stay for short periods of time and have a dialogue with the landscape. Creating buildings that can evoke powerful feelings is very rare, but the Balancing Barn certainly has a strangely disturbing beauty.
Client: Living Architecture
Structural Engineer: Jane Wernick AssociatesServices Engineer: Jane Wernick Associates
Contract value: Undisclosed
Date of completion: October 2010
Gross internal area: 220m2
Watson House by John Pardey Architects
Location New Forest National Park Photography JamesMorris
There is an integrity and elegant simplicity to this house: a single, long, linear shape in a New Forest clearing. The brief was for a holiday home within the woods to comply with the requirement, having won planning permission on appeal, that it would be invisible from the public realm.
The building is staked to the ground by its broad brick chimney, but otherwise it floats above the landscape in a way that is graceful and timeless. The structure is constructed from cross-laminated prefabricated panels clad in locally grown sweet chestnut strips. The timber panels not only minimise the carbon footprint, but also allowed the building to be built quickly.
Large areas of glass are recessed under overhangs, which minimises heat gain and strengthens the flow between spaces inside and outside. With its timber frame in-filled with glass and timber panels and its meticulous detailing, the Watson House pays homage to Danish examples of the mid-20th century. This is a simple idea, left strong and not overcooked.
And yet the architecture has been enriched by a playful humour. For example, the floor-level windows give privacy but are at a height that is perfect for pets. Elsewhere, the precise placing of other windows gives privacy but exposes the inner life of the building in a delightful way.
This is a poetic building with the simplicity and symmetry of a sonnet, not an epic.
Client: Charles and Fiona Watson
Structural Engineer: Ramboll UK
Services Engineer: Energist UK
Contract value: £640,000
Date of completion: September 2010
Gross internal area: 206m2
Deodar House by Eldrige Smerin Architects
Location Epsom, Surrey Photography Lyndon Douglas
As you approach the house, on a private road of developer pastiche, a sense of surprise is followed by one of satisfaction. Externally, the building delivers the anticipated formula for an expensive,large private house. But the uncompromising massing and unrelenting geometry give way to a homely and welcoming interior.
The house is made up of two wings; one the home, the other the pool. A sculptured landscape garden makes a rhomboid of the whole plan. The building sits slightly submerged in its golf course setting, the lower floor study and bedrooms and indoor pool open onto a sunken sculptured landscape. The main wing is angled at 60º to the pool wing, and the double-storey fair-faced concrete columns are triangular in section. The rhomboid landscaped garden is presented formally with over 100 equilaterally shaped timber planting boxes cascading down, whose regularity is shattered by a children’s slide. There is something delightfully Frank Lloyd Wright about the triangular obsessiveness.
There are seven 80-metre deep boreholes for ground source heating and solar thermal water heating panels on the roof. The mass concrete structure itself acts as a thermal heat store and maintains constant temperatures throughout the year. All the rooms are naturally ventilated. The project is in a long architectural tradition – the large and lavish private house – that promotes experimentation with the building type, yet turns it into an art form.
Client: Ian and Lelyana Harris
Contractor: Robin Ellis Construction
Structural engineer: TALL Consulting
Services Engineer: StudioNine
Contract value: £2.6m
Date of completion: January 2010
Gross internal area: 715m2
Ty-Hedfan by Featherstone Young
Location Pontfaen, Brecon Photography Tim Brotherton
The name Ty Hedfan means ‘hovering house’. Building on a tight, sloping riverside plot with a cantilever that gets round the seven-metre no-build zone next to the river, the architect has created a building that not only feels at one with the landscape, but in the use of materials and by clever consideration of the building’s orientation, also blends into the architecture of the nearby village.
The design uses a tall, striking and expressive nine-metre tall dry-stone wall as the knuckle between the rectangular form of the main house and the cranked bedroom wing, which is buried into the hillside under a green sedum roof. It is as if the house has emerged from the ruins of an ancient Welsh castle. And from the road you are only aware of the slate clad and roofed form of the main building with concealed guttering.
The arrival sequence through the triple-height stone-clad lobby into a compressed space that houses a boot room, utility and bathroom permits a glimpse through to the kitchen and beyond. Once in the kitchen you become aware of the real connection to nature, which is enhanced by incorporating an external terrace into the plan. The best views are from the cantilevered living room where you feel that you are among the trees. But equally good are the views of the cantilever from the bedrooms.
A confident and innovative solution to the demands of a difficult site has provided the architect owners with a delightful rural retreat.
Client: Jeremy Young & Sarah Featherstone
Contractor: Osborne Builders
Structural Engineer: Techniker
Contract value: £530,000
Date of completion: July 2010
Gross internal area: 223m2
Innovator, educator, writer and leader in the profession, Michael Manser established the Manser Practice in 1961. He has written for and edited Architectural Design and was the the Observer’s architectural correspondent from 1961 to 1964. He was RIBA president between 1983-5. The Manser Medal was created in 2001 in his honour as long-term chairman of the National HomeBuilder Design Awards.
Friedrich Ludewig founded Acme in London in 2007, and won the Manser Medal just three years later for Hunsett Mill in Norfolk. He studied at the Technical University and Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin, before moving to London to study at the Architectural Association. Between 2000 and 2007 he worked at Foreign Office Architects, first in Tokyo then in London. As associate director at FOA he was responsible for projects including the London 2012 Olympic masterplan.
Joanna Van Heyningen
Joanna co-founded van Heyningen and Haward Architects in 1983. Recent buildings include an education centre for RSPB Rainham Marshes and No 1 Smithery, a museum at Chatham Historic Dockyards. Joanna is a member of CABE’s Crossrail and Thames Tunnel Panels, a BDA award assessor, a trustee of the Building Centre, an external examiner at Cambridge University School of Architecture and a member of the NLA Sounding Board.
Managing director of Property Vision since 1996, Peter Mackie has been with the company since 1994.
He was appointed managing director of HSBC Private Bank with sole responsibility of running Property Vision in 2007. Previously, Peter was an associate director for a firm of surveyors.
Tony Chapman is the RIBA’s head of awards, and has been responsible for the RIBA Stirling Prize since its inception in 1996. Previously he was a BBC television producer, and he continues to make films and write books about award-winning architects and buildings. He was made an honorary fellow of the RIBA in 2010.
Previous winners of the RIBA Manser Medal include Acme for Hunsett Mill (2010), Pitman Tozer Architects for The Gap House (2009), Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners for Oxley Woods (2008) and Alison Brooks Architects for the Salt House (2007). This year’s judges were: Michael Manser CBE, architect; Friedrich Ludewig, architect with ACME; Peter Mackie, Managing Director of Property Vision (a subsidiary of HSBC Private Bank); Tony Chapman, Hon FRIBA, RIBA Head of Awards; and Jo van Heyningen from Heyningen and Haward.
2011 RIBA Manser Medal: Winner and shortlist