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For Sale: Richard Rogers' parents home

The Richard and Su Rogers-designed grade II*-listed home in Wimbledon has been put on the market for £3.2 million

The house, which drawn up for his parents and completed in 1970 for just £22,442, was listed in February this year.

At the time of listing the architecture minister, Ed Vaizey, described the building as a ‘masterpiece’ and an ‘outstanding and innovative example of a high-tech steel frame house’.

Rogers said: ‘The approach used to design this building inspired much of my future work, including the Centre Pompidou, designed with Renzo Piano, and Lloyd’s of London, which has now been Grade I listed.

‘The house is made up of prefabricated components, principally steel and glass, which can be adapted to changing requirements. Today, my son Ab Rogers and his family live and work in the house and have adapted it to suit their needs.’

Original building study AJ 06/10/1971: Rogers house, Wimbledon

If, in the architects’ opinion, the Spender house is the prototype for a wide-span steel-framed extensible housing system- this is claimed- then the house completed a year later for Richard Rogers’ parents must be considered as the Mark 2 version. For all the contextual differ ences, location, site, orientation and client, the underlying plan is very similar; and acknowledged to be so.

Externally, the colours are the same: white cladding, black trim, yellow steelwork. But now the portal uprights have been shifted inboard of the end walls, thus shortening the span and overcoming the awkward haunch penetrations of the earlier design. As before, the house itself is approached through the carport and across an intervening courtyard, while the studio has been replaced by a small flat. The immediate impression of a crisp, well-balanced composition, is marred slightly by a ragged skyline formed by aroofing felt upstand. It was intended originally to mask the felt with a steel angle, and its omission must be an oversight.

The shadow-play of corrugated steel has given way to the flat smooth surface of coated aluminium sandwich panels linked by neat neoprene gaskets. The appearance of these panels leaves much to be desired. First, the occasional ripple or bump confirms that the art of producing perfect thin-skinned composite panels, ie free from delamination troubles, is still in its infancy. Second, the pvc coating has a rather nasty repeat pattern which does not run true to the, vertical and horizontal axes. Viewed in slanting sunlight,the effect is similar to badly-applied moire leatherette- if such an abomination really exists.

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Rain-carried dirt streaks are in evidence, although these could be washed off easily from time to time. Finally, surface scratches and indentations proclaim the material’s vulnerability and pose impossible repair problems. In the circumstances it is no coincidence that the architects are investigating grp, as a more satisfactory cladding alternative.

Exterior apertures in the panelled transverse walls are appropriately and modishly circular or corner-radiused. In addition to vent and extract fan openings are two outright witticisms-a circular iris mechanism, giving air to the utility space, and a cat flap. The second of these remarkable items was used in the Spender house; and on the strength of its repeat appaarance all cat lovers must surely hope that this touchingly dornestic item b econ1es a scheduled component in the final kit-of-p arts! It doubles usefully as a letter-box, as the tape-printed message by the front door testifies. Side doors, manufactured b y a company which supplies doors and windows to t he transport industry, are strong and well-htmg on a pair-and-a-half of beefy hinges.

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The long window facades 15, 16 made up of large sliding and fixed double-glazed tmits, present the minirnum visual barrier. Apart from a locking-key arrangement and the omission of an outside handle to the rear garden window, they seem to work well. Passing through the front door; a sliding glass panel like t he others, one steps into a space 45ft x 26ft (14 x 8 m). The kitchen counter delineates a ftmctional area, and the overall sense is one of cool but colourful spaciousness. Floor, blinds and sliding partitions contribute white, vivid yellow and lime green. This main room is remarkable also for the mid ’30s dining suite and side tables which were designed by the famous Italian architect Ernesto Rogers, a family relation. Marbled, upright, stern, t hese pieces set the tone for a formal, disciplined interior in which nothing superfluous is permitted, and nothing is out of place.

Of the other plan areas, the study/consulting room is in effect the library too, and just adequate in size. The two bedrooms have excellent built-in cupboards, with mirrorbacked doors on secret hinges, and similarly discreet shower and we compartments. The joinery throughout the house is of an exceptionally high standard. The minute utility room is put to clever double use: above the sink and washing machine, two bunks hinge down for visiting grandchildren. It is the bathroom that is the tour de force.

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A full width/height mirror above the stainless steel vanitory basin gives an illusion of depth in one plane, and a vast flat skylight takes the place of the ceiling. To be flooded with daylight is an unexpected and pleasureable shock, although the artificial ventilation and reflective qualities of the glass are insufficient to stem the heat of the summer sun. The skylight, having no fall and a restraining edge gasket, collects rainwater. However, it does not leak, and perhaps the sight of leaves swilling about in dirty water is rather nice and relaxing when seen through glass and from the prone position.

Whereas the Spender house had six modest sliding doors, the Rogers house has three of these plus an additional 34ft (10.4 m) of sliding partition arranged ingeniously on three adjacent tracks and in four separate leaves. If all doors are retracted and all partitions stacked in front of the bathroom unit, there is an instant open plan. Whether or not this arrangement will ever be operated in such a sweeping way, its tmdoubted cleverness is again at the expense of sound proofing alignment with the window frames.

The universal white urethane resin floor finish is disappointing. Its wet look and bobbly surface may be fashionable; its discoloration (turning brown under ultraviolet rays) can only be embarrassing. In keeping with their philosophy, the architects have employed no cover trim- not even, this time, any skirtings. Consequently there are the usual attendant drawbacks: open, dirty and ragged joints noticeable at wall/ceiling junctions, where the flash-gap is uneven and between wall panels and floor. It would be a advisable to fill the latter joints with a poured compound, and not at all difficult. ‘Lodge’ has a solid, old-fashioned ring about it, with connotations of country house grandeur. In reality, apart from the carport and pottery, it is a small bed-sitting room. The quality of t he interior, its fittings and detailing is similar to the house. This little flat has its own view to the south, conferring independence.

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Concept and reality

It is vital to recognise t hat both schemes were designed initially with a screened courtyard linking the two buildings into a simple, coherent rectangle. It is only with this degree of design totality that any large-scale grouping, could avoid fragmentation; and the architects are still thinking that side screens should not be omitted in the single house context. In “Wimbledon, the probable fate of the emptycompanion plot.19 that lies alongside means that the opaque dividing wall will have to be reinstated on this boundary.

Each of the two houses possesses a back door, presumably patronised, although at t he Spender house, location of the kitchen rather absurdly establishes this door on the private, orchard garden elevation. Whether or not one considers a tradesmen‘s entrance to be an anachronism, it is an anomaly that in each situation this door can be approached only by a route lying outside any courtyard enclosure.

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Although a dissertation on the role of client involvement in the planning process is not called for here, certain points must be made. In the Spender house, it was the client’s brief that decided the split plan. It was he who insisted on grass rather than paving, open views rather than enclosed ones and the inclusion of a free-standmg stove in the living room. Since occupation, the owners have stamped their surroundings with their own individuality. In the Rogers house, a year later, one does not sense the same level of client participation, partly because the occupatwnal Impact has been less and one suspects, because the basic plan was second-hand. This is not to say the owners are dissatisfied with their home-on the contrary, they are delighted but that the framework is more impersonal.

As they have stated, the architects are moving towards a contractual procedure in which the general contractor is redundant or vestigial, work is carried out by specialist firms and blanket responsibility for supervision is their own. It sounds admirable, but such a course puts great onus on the architect. He will rightly demand shop drawings, but the dimensional co-ordination of special elements and the provision of proper key drawings-both are in his province-will become more, not less, essential. Each of the two houses under review has had its share of mistakes, and each took several months to complete, despite more optimistic forecasts.

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The underlying design concept of house and ancillary block in precise confrontation across an enclosed court is without question a valid and attractive solution for a private house. When interpreted in terms of forty-foot clear spans and full-height glazed walls to match- as internal flexibility and longitudinal growth potential apparently entails- it will certainly be a costly one. Only by the wildest stretch of the imagination and the utmost curtailment of expense, could the basic scheme begin to be adapted for mass housing. The architects make many extravagant claims for their ‘steel component housing’, as stated at the beginning of this building study and elsewhere, and it would be tempting to dismiss these as mere wishful thinking were it not for the ease with which an adulatory and uncritical audience accepts them.

Let such worthy parameters as ‘flexibility, privacy, minimum cost, maximum prefabrication, speed of construction’ and so on remain as objectives, but let them be recognised for what in most instances they still are-aspirations, not attainments.

To return to the initial question as to the relevance of a technologically sophisticated approach to house-building, this is the only way in which these most pertinent aims can now be met. If these two houses have not succeeded entirely in what they set out to do, they nevertheless demonstrate great forethought, conceptual ability, inventiveness and style.

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