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From the archive: John Winter's house

[FROM THE ARCHIVE] The AJ takes a look at John Winter’s cor-ten clad family home in Camden

Built by the Modernist architect, who died earlier this week aged 82, for himself and and his family, the house sits on a tight site and is designed around a rectangular grid plan with modules of 2.5m (8ft) by 3.6m (12ft) by 6m (20ft).

Split over three-storeys the top floor is an open-plan living-space and study accessed from a central stair and fireplace. The first floor contains bedrooms and bathroom and the ground floor an open-plan family kitchen, dining and playroom.

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The steel framed building is clad with cor-ten, the first domestic use of the material in the United Kingdom. The external walls are entirely formed of double-glazed units that have narrow full-height pivoting openings on the upper floors, and sliding units on the ground floor.

Original building study: John Winter’s house (AJ 26/08/1970)

John Winter has a private practice run in association withthree other architects. His House at Swain’s Lane, Highgate, is the second he has built for himself and his family. To take aclvantage of a splendid view over London it is planned with the living room on the upper-most of three floors.

This house, completed in 1969, is a three-storey building, of 2220 sq ft (204m²) . The structure is steel with a 20ft x 12ft (6.09 m X 3.66 m) bay size; the steel frame is clad externally with cor-ten weathering steel and a similar material is used as the top laminate of the external wall panels. Glazing is double, and ventilation is through sliding doors on the ground floor and storey height flaps above.

The site is the garden of the superintendent’s house at Highgate cemetery; it is to tho north of the old house, so the now house has a three-storey Victorian house to the south, the now derelict mortuary chapel to t he north and cemetery to the west and east, with fine views across London. Highgate cemetery is surrounded by a high brick wall 120 years old and this separates the site from Swain’s Lane and give the privacy that makes a glassy house possible.

The house is for the architect, his wife and three children; it is the second h ouse built for themselves, so there was experience of living in a modern house.

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Views from the top, plus the need to keep ground space for garden, led to the adoption of a three-storey layout, layered with quiet living on top, sleeping in the middle, noisy at the bottom. The ground floor is at ground level with a quarry tile floor running through to form a splayed external plinth to catch the rusty drips from the weathering steel above; this floor is for eating, cooking and playing-it is furnished in a comfy, informal way and can be opened up to the garden. In addition to family use, it serves a local play group of twenty toddlers; also on the ground floor is the spare room with adjacent bathroom, and the use of this room will change as the family develops.

The middle floor contains the four family bedrooms and a bathroom/laundry which serves as a centre where the children’s clothes are stored, sorted and put out to wear. The top floor has a study area separated from a living area by a big fireplace which also houses water tank and storage heater; this living room, with Mies furniture, an Albers picture and ancient carvings is a quiet place to work, and get away from it all.

Construction

At the present time, brick, timber, concrete and steel are more or less identical in cost for a house of this size and quality. We chose steel because we wanted some open floor areas, because we might want to change the internal layout, because we feel fenced in by solid walls and because of the architectural discipline it gives-and with this particular weathering steel at last there is a machine age material that really works, though rolled sections are not available in lots of less than five tons.

The steel frame-eight 6in X 6in (152 mm X 152 mm)wide flange sections connected by 10in X 4in ( 254 mm X 102 mm) beams-is clad externally with 1/4in (6 mm) plates welded to form a continuous cover 2in (51 mm) outside the frame, and the 2in (51 mm) gap is filled with insulation so that the mild steel frame is at room temperature and the cladding at external temperature with as few cold bridges as possible.

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With this cladding material every overhang is a disaster, so the facades are as flat as possible, with a standard detail of a steel angle screwed to the frame to take glass, ventilator or wall panel. The glass consists of sealed double glazed units, the ventilators are storey-high centre-pivoted flaps of steel faced polyurethane and the walls are panels formed of 12 gauge steel sheet bonded to asbestos insulation board with a backing of 1!in (38 mm) polymethane insulation and 4in (102 mm) concrete block.

Floor slabs are concrete containing heating cables and internal partitions are concrete block to increase the thermal capacity, enabling the off-peak heating to work effectively and preventing the interior from overheating in summer.

Contractal arrangements

There was no general contractor, the architect/owner being in effect general contractor. Fifteen separate contracts were arranged totaling £12 421, the architect being on site most days; on the whole the different organisations co-operated well. In n1any cases there was a discount on the contracts, giving a straight saving. Against this, about £550 was expended on incidentals-hire of hoist and scaffolding, insurance, breakages, thefts, mistakes, delays, district surveyor’s fees and so on.

For an architect building his own house, to break the contract down in this way is enjoyable, instructive and probably economical, but I would conclude that the normal general contractor who takes 10 per cent on the sub-contractors’ cost for overhead and profit earns every penny of it.

AJ Buildings Library

See images and drawings of John Winter’s house

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