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FIRST LOOK

CODA Projects’ New Jersey house echoes London home by architect’s father

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For the design of this new house in New Jersey, USA, the client sought out the son of the architect who designed his childhood Hampstead home

In 1954 the London practice of Higgins Ney and Partners was commissioned to design a family house in Hampstead, a welcome change for the firm from its usual public housing work.

The design wove the then contemporary Brutalist aesthetic with the planning philosophy of Richard Neutra, resulting in a uniquely British version of mid-century modernism. Some 60 years later the client’s son decided to build a house inspired by the original one, but this time in the suburbs of New Jersey. Wanting an environment that reminded him of his childhood home, with the similar combination of solidity and transparency that characterised the original, he approached CODA Projects, a firm founded by Matthew Higgins, the son of Hal Higgins, one of the original partners of Higgins Ney.

Bothhouses

Bothhouses

The original Hampstead home (left) and the new house in New Jersey (right)

The New Jersey house, recently completed, shows continuity with its 1950s predecessor in aspects of its materiality and detail. This can be seen with the north façade (main entrance), which is windowless, echoing the blank entrance façade of the original house. Equally the balance of glass and brick that defines the main living space, the ‘great room’ is similar to the living room in the earlier house. The new house also avoids expressed lintels in favour of aluminium panels wrapping around the façade above the windows, in line with the 1950s detail. The sand-cast facing bricks are similarly an exact match to those used in the older building. They were shipped from the UK, which actually proved cheaper than sourcing a similar product in the US.

In many other respects, however, this new house differs significantly from its predecessor, most clearly in its size. The inclusion of an inner courtyard effectively distances it from the contextual emphasis of Neutra’s model and gives the whole composition an introspective character.  This also reflects the need for privacy on a relatively small lot overlooked by neighbouring homes, a major element of the client’s brief. There’s also a clear division between public and private spaces internally, which diverges from the Neutra model, and enables the house to function both as family home and corporate venue for the client’s business.

House size comparison

House size comparison

Source: CODA Projects

House size comparison

Architect’s view

When I was approached to take on this task, I was hesitant. It was daunting to accept a complex commission so soon after winding up the family practice in London and moving to the States. More profoundly, I wasn’t sure I could do justice to my father’s design ethic without it becoming an empty stylistic device or tired ‘MCM’ cliché. On the other hand, it did offer a personal opportunity to celebrate my father following his death in 2011, and cement, in a very physical way, his long love affair with the United States.

The end result is a building that, despite its large floor area, manages to capture the ascetic quality of the first home through the use of simple materials and unadorned details. Its uncompromising appearance may divide opinion but, as a physical home and an evocation of ‘home’, it precisely meets the client’s wishes.

Matthew Higgins, founder, CODA Projects

Project data

Start on site July 2013
Completion July 2016
Gross internal floor area 950m² excluding garage and courtyard
Gross (internal + external) floor area 1,152m² including garage (74m²), central courtyard (52m²) and bedroom balcony (22m²)
Form of contract or procurement route Negotiated contract
Construction cost Confidential
Architect CODA Projects LLC
Supervising architect Matthew Higgins 
Executive architect, M&E and structural engineer Jarmel Kizel Architects and Engineers
Client Mr and Mrs J Frankel
Civil engineer Casey & Keller
Lighting Robert Newell Lighting
Aluminium framing KJP Enterprise 
Main contractor Bronstein Construction  

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