Anatomy of a House No.8 Fieldhouse, Crocknorth, Surrey 1969 Georgie Wolton
The houses we cover in our Anatomy of a House series usually fall into one of three categories; 1: Listed and/or kept as the architect originally intended, 2: Altered beyond recognition (see No.7 St Raphael), or 3: Demolished. The subject of our 8th Anatomy of a House unfortunately falls into the last category (well sort of, but more on that later). It was designed by Georgie Wolton, a lesser known but fascinating figure of post war architecture in Britain.
Fieldhouse, Crocknorth, Surrey. Image from June Park: Houses for Today
Biographical details for Wolton are scant, but here is what we do know. She was born in Surrey in February 1934. She attended Epsom School of Art, where she met Richard Rogers, before studying at the Architectural Association from 1955 to 1960 before working briefly in the US. Back in Britain, she was one of the founder members of Team 4, a practice that included Rogers, Norman Foster, Georgie’s sister Wendy (later Foster) and Su Brumwell (later Rogers). Georgie was the only qualified architect among them, but quickly realised she preferred to work individually and left the collective to strike out alone.
Wolton designed a handful of buildings over the next 25 years, the most famous of which is the live/work space, Cliff Road Studios in Camden (1968-71). She also designed a couple of houses for her and her family, a single storey house in brick with a glass pyramid rooflight in Belsize Park (1976) and a steel house on Crocknorth Farm near Horley in Surrey, which is the house we will be exploring. The farm, previously owned by Wolton’s mother, lies on the Surrey Downs, in an open and windswept position, 600 ft above sea level. The house was intended as a weekend retreat, a getaway from city life seated in nature.
A sketch of the steel frame used for Fieldhouse. Image from Neil Jackson: Modern Steel House
Despite its bucolic location, in a meadow surrounded by pine trees, the house was very much something from the machine age. It was constructed of corten steel, a relatively unused material then (John Winter’s corten house in Highgate was completed two months before Fieldhouse). The steel frame held large windows of clear or brown “Spectrafloat” glass allowing 360 degree over the surrounding landscape. Corten steel is designed to develop a rust-like texture. Wolton chose it for this reason, wanting it to blend into the terrain, “It's a wild building and does not want to be tamed in any sort of way”.
Wolton's house in Belsize.
Farnsworth House, Plano by Mise van der Rohe. Image from Saatchi.
The form of the building is influenced most directly by Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, and also by Philip Johnson Glass House in New Canaan and Case Study House 8 by Ray & Charles Eames in California, the last two of which Wolton visited whilst in the US. Wolton even borrowed the name of the house from a classic US modernist home. She stayed with architect Serge Chermayeff and his family at their home in Cape Cod, which was called Fieldhouse, prompting Wolton to use it in tribute to her time there.
Inside the house was divided by sliding partitions, allowing reorganisation of the interior depending on the number of occupants and their requirements. The floors were of dark cork, minimising noise in the relatively tight confines of the house. The lack of wall space and areas to put radiators was circumvented by having electric heating situated on the ceiling. Despite its remoteness and ruggedness, Fieldhouse did sport some luxury, in the shape of a swimming pool, which sat on an axis with the house's entrance, and was sheltered from the wind by earth embankments.
The interior of Fieldhouse
The swimming pool at Fieldhouse.
As mentioned at the start, Fieldhouse no longer exists. It was dismantled in 1993, its constituent parts apparently still stored in a warehouse, raising the tantalising prospect of them being dusted down and reconstructed on a suitable site. The site was used to build a new three bedroom house, although the long thin pool was kept. As well as Fieldhouse and the house in Belsize Park, Wolton also converted a Grade II listed barn in Gloucestershire for her own use in 1982. Wolton spent the latter part of her career as a landscape architect, designing gardens for The River Cafe, RSH+P’s Thames Reach and working on the gardens of the Dartington Hall Estate in Devon. Jonathan Meades praised her work and described her as the "outstanding woman architect of the generation before Zaha Hadid".Wolton died on 25th August 2021.
Neil Jackson: The Modern Steel House June Park: Houses for Today Miranda Newton: Architects' London Houses