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House Plan: Richard Lavington on Neave Brown’s Winscombe Street

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In the fourth of a new series looking at influential housing plans, Richard Lavington choses a drawing of Winscombe Street by Neave Brown

I first became aware of this drawing in the late 80s, when I worked for Neave Brown and David Porter after leaving University. I had joined them to assist on a large housing project in The Hague. 

This drawing, in Neave’s distinctive style, explains the whole project. The terrace comprises five repeated three storey homes, one with an attached studio, with the street to the front and a shared garden to the rear. It is simply planned with a beautifully efficient use of Parker Morris space. 

To my mind, Winscombe Street is Neave’s essay on the enduring relevance of the English terraced house, and the importance of the street as the organising principle for the city. The section of the house refers directly to this precedent. A half spiral of steps lead up half a level from the street to a front door at upper ground level. The lower ground level opens directly onto the rear garden. 

The design of these houses neatly solves the challenge of the three storey home. Typically most houses of this size work best on two floors as there is a roughly equal split between sleeping and living spaces. This house rethinks this convention, placing the kitchen on the middle floor at the heart of the house, with direct access to a balcony and to the garden via a spiral stair. Below are two children’s bedrooms with direct access to the garden, the stable-style doors allowing the opening to also be used a window. Above are the parent’s bedroom and the living room with a view over the shared garden. 

Neave Browne's Winscomb Street plan

Neave Browne’s Winscomb Street plan

The project is also relevant as an example of co-housing commissioned by five young families, including Neave’s own. However, any understanding of the project isn’t complete without Neave’s description of the design process. The group had asked him to design each house to their own specification. He agreed, but insisted on meeting each family separately. 

‘They all told me what they wanted, and it was more or less the same thing.’ he said. ‘I went away and designed it and then showed each one the plan of their house. They all said, ‘That’s lovely’. Later, when they asked to see the others’ houses, they were startled to see they were all the same.’

These houses still represent a shining example of humanely planned family homes that that together form a community.

About ten years after working for Neave and David, and with a young family, I looked at buying one of these houses, but was sadly outbid. 

Richard Lavington is co-founder of Maccreanor Lavington Architects.

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