Sunspan House, 1 Wentworth Close, Long Ditton, Surrey 1934 Wells Coates and David Pleydell-Bouverie
All the houses we have explored so far in our Anatomy of a House series have been dominated by the right angle. The next house we are going to investigate has much less of the straight and narrow about it. The Sunspan house was developed by architects Wells Coates and David Pleydell-Bouverie as a design that would help solve Britain’s housing crisis using prefabricated parts that could be assembled on a variety of sites. Its most prominent feature is the curved facade which allows maximum sunlight into the house throughout the day. This, and the flexible open plan interior, reflected the move away from house designs of earlier periods with their dark, narrow rooms and labyrinthine plans towards a brighter future…or so the plan went.
1 Wentworth Close, Long Ditton, Surrey
Wells Coates was born in Tokyo on 17th December 1895. His Canadian parents were Methodist missionaries, spending time in the country spreading the religion. His mother, Sarah, had trained under architect Louis Sullivan in Chicago, and was planning out missionary schools in Japan. The family subsequently moved around the Far East and back to Canada. Coates was only 19 when World War I broke out and he would serve in the Royal Air Force as a gunner and a pilot. After the war he moved to Britain, studying engineering before getting a job as a journalist with the Daily Express and later becoming an interior designer. After designing interiors for Cresta Silks, the BBC and actor Charles Laughton, Coates moved into architecture.
The Isokon Building, Belsize Park (1934) by Wells Coates
The building that brought him into the public eye were the Isokon apartments in Belsize Park. Designed for Jack & Molly Pritchard of the Isokon furniture company, the building provided inexpensive flats for young professionals, with 22 flats for single people, named “minimum” apartments, as well as a penthouse apartment occupied by the Pritchards. During the development of the Isokon, Coates formed a working partnership with David Pleydell-Bouverie. Pleydell-Bouverie was born in 1911 into a well to do family (he was the grandson of the 5th Earl of Radnor). Together they developed the Sunspan House idea for the 1934 Ideal Home Exhibition at Olympia in Kensington. Coates had previously developed his “Isotype” housing idea in 1927, which had some features that would show up on the Sunspan house, such as the curved glass section.
The two-storey Sunspan house at the Ideal Home Exhibition, 1934
The house on show at the 1934 exhibition was a two storey home with a curved facade on one side. This could be oriented to the best angle on the plot it was built on, preferably in a north-south axis, allowing maximum daylight. The house was constructed of steel sheeting, fixed to a steel frame. This frame would be built into a concrete foundation then finished with plastering. In theory this would allow homeowners flexible planning inside, whether they wanted an open plan or something more cozy. The Olympia house was fitted out with furniture and devices designed by Coates, like the circular bakelite Ecko radio.
Plan for a single-storey Sunspan house.
Blueprint for the Ecko Radio by Wells Coates. Image from RIBApix.
Coates had assumed that the Pritchards would wholeheartedly agree to his plan for them to finance the building of various estates of Sunspan houses around the suburbs and home counties, but when they made an offer that Coates thought was substandard, he took the idea to the building company E & L Berg Ltd of Esher. The company had been formed in the early 1920s by Ellis Berg and built a number of estates around London as well as buildings for the Ministry of Works. The deal with Berg would prove to be problematic. The building company evidently didn't think Coates and Pleydell-Bouverie’s design was the finished article, and they proceeded to build altered versions of it, with extra storeys and other changes.
This is what happened with the Sunspan house we have made the emblem of this article, one of three built at the beginning of Wentworth Close at Long Ditton in Surrey. It is one of the few well preserved examples of the Sunspan, having been expertly restored by architect John Winter in 2000. When Winter was examining the house he discovered that the steel frame had been replaced with brick during construction, a fundamental change to the idea of a prefabricated house.
The single-storey Sunspan at Welwyn
The Runnymede Sunspan house in East Preston, West Sussex. Image from Coulthard.
Most of the other built Sunspan’s have been further altered down the years, as seen at No.3 Wentworth Close, with its tile hanging and pantiled roofline (added to alleviate water leakage from poor construction). Others have been changed beyond all recognition, such as the prototype single-storey Sunspan built at Welwyn in Hertfordshire, now unrecognizable underneath an added pitched roof. However there are a few Sunspan houses that have been listed, all single houses rather than the groups that were built at Long Ditton, nearby Hinchley Wood and New Malden. A good example of the individually built Sunspan is “Runnymede” at East Preston, West Sussex, now Grade II listed.
Ramsgate Aerodrome, now demolished, by David Pleydell- Bouveire. Image from RIBApix.
Coates continued to explore different mediums in his work. As well as designing apartment blocks and houses, he also produced the Wingsail, a boat with a rigid sail on a catamaran hull. He returned to Canada in the mid-1950s and died of a heart attack in 1958. Pleydell- Bouveire also moved over the Atlantic, settling in California and continuing his career with a number of house designs. He passed away in 1994.
The Sunspan houses in Kingston on Thames and Surrey will feature in our new guidebook, Modernism Beyond Metro-Land. Support the project and get your copy HERE
References Sherban Cantacuzino- Wells Coates. A Monograph Gordon Fraser 1978 Alan Powers- Modern: The Modern Movement in Britain Merrell 2005 F.R.S. Yorke- The Modern House in England The Architectural Press 1945
Anatomy of a House No.12 2 Foxes Dale, Blackheath, Greenwich 1957 Eric Lyons & Partners
Over his long association with Span Developments, Eric Lyons and his partnership designed hundreds of houses and flats, often slightly altering previous design. Each different design was given a letter and number code, and the progression of a different design could be seen in its changing code, for example the T series of houses progressed from T1 in 1951 through to T15 in 1964. The house we will be exploring for our 12th Anatomy of a House blog is a T3 model, found at Foxes Dale in Blackheath, a design that was made House and Garden magazine’s “House of Ideas” for 1957. Three of these houses were built in a terrace, with No.2 given the grand title.
2 Foxes Dale on the cover of House and Garden June 1957
Eric Lyons was born in Highbury on October 2nd 1912. At 18 he went to work for architect J. Stanley Beard, attending evening classes in architecture at Regent Street Polytechnic. He later worked in the office of Walter Gropius and Maxwell Fry during their brief partnership together during the 1930s. After the war he worked with Geoffrey Townsend until 1953, when Townsend set up a development company, Span (architects and developers had to be separate at that time). Span developments would become Lyons main client for the rest of his career, with their first big project together being the Parkleys estate in Ham, Richmond upon Thames, consisting of 169 flats and houses arranged around mature trees and hedges. The style of the buildings was taken from Scandinavian modernism, with small scale structures in brick and timber with tile hanging.
The ground floor courtyard of 2 Foxes Dale from House and Garden
The company began building in the Blackheath area in 1956 with The Priory Estate, and quickly added many more over the next few years, with Span partner and Blackheath resident Leslie Bilsby buying up land on the old Cator estate. Work on Foxes Dale began in 1957, with The Hall estate and the three T3 houses. The T3 is a three storey version of the earlier T1 and T2 types, with a more complex internal arrangement than the previous versions. The ground floor is made up of the kitchen, dining area and living room, not quite open plan, but flowing onto each other. There is a garden at the front and the rear of the house has a glass-walled patio and garden area, extending the living space outdoors, and bringing in light to the narrow house. The first floor hosts the main bedroom which opens out on a sun terrace on the roof of the patio area, complete with pergola. The top floor has two small bedrooms, with all floors connected by spiral staircases. A garage at the rear, accessed by a side road, allows cars to be parked away from the street.
2 Foxes Dale section and floor plans from House and Garden
The houses are constructed of brick with reinforced concrete beams for support. The walls at the front and rear are made up of insulating blocks and panels, allowing larger windows to be installed if desired. When completed No.2 had a large rectangular window on the first floor with a smaller opening next to it, and a long ribbon window on the second floor. The front of the houses are finished in white timber, and the doorway is recessed and finished with coloured panels. The gardens are laid out with stone paving and a mixture of shrubs and trees, chosen to provide volume rather than colour.
The garden of 2 Foxes Dale from House and Garden
Despite the laurels given to the house, no more T3’s were built. A planned scheme of 16 T3’s nearby was dropped, and the rest of Foxes Dale was developed with the T2 type house and flats. The street would also provide another honour, with No.1, (an R Type house with a butterfly roof built from 1964 as part of The Hall development) being given the title of Woman’s Journal House of the Year for 1965. (photo). Lyons and Span continued to design new houses and estates, spreading from the confines of London to Surrey, Cambridgeshire, Kent and Buckinghamshire. Lyons went on to become the president of the Royal Institute for British architects from 1975 to 1977, before developing Motor Neurone disease and passing away in 1980. His designs for Span throughout the suburbs of London and the Home Counties are highly sought after and still thought of as quintessential mid-century modernist designs.
The garden of 1 Foxes Dale, Woman’s Journal House of the Year for 1965
The houses at Foxes Dale and Eric Lyons' other designs for Span in Blackheath and elsewhere will feature in our new guidebook, Modernism Beyond Metro-land. Support the project and get your copy HERE
64 Heath Drive, Gidea Park 1934 Francis Skinner and Tecton
64 Heath Drive, Gidea Park
On the 20th August 1934, the Gidea Park Modern Homes Exhibition closed, having opened on July 31st. The exhibition was an estate of houses built to showcase modern home design, the idea of Major Ralph Raphael and undertaken by Gidea Park Ltd. Ralph was the nephew of Herbert Raphel, a Liberal MP and promoter of the first Gidea Park exhibition in 1911, when 150 homes were built to form what was then known as Romford Garden Suburb. Those houses were largely built in the Arts and Crafts style by architects like Geoffry Lucas, W. Curtis Green and Parker & Unwin. The 1934 exhibition would feature the influence of art deco and modernism, styles that were slowly being absorbed in Britain. The most overtly modernist of the new designs was 64 Heath Drive by Francis Skinner of Berthold Lubetkin’s Tecton practice, the subject of our 11th Anatomy of a House.
Poster advertising the 1934 Gidea Park Modern Homes Exhibition
Lubetkin had come to Britain in 1931, establishing Tecton, an architectural co-partnership that would later be home to Denys Lasdun, Lindsay Drake, Carl Ludwig Franck, Godfrey Samuel and others. Their first set of buildings were those at London Zoo, housing penguins and gorillas rather than people. The success of those structures, and the Highpoint flats in Highgate, led them to be the preeminent modernist designers of interwar Britain.
Russell Thomas Francis Skinner was born in Kuala Lumpur in 1908, training at the Architectural Association before becoming a founding member of Tecton. He was a committed modernist at a time of deep distrust to the “new style” coming from the continent in British architectural circles, and a member of the Communist party. The house at Gidea Park was Skinner’s first completed building, at the tender age of 26.
Sketch of how 64 Heath Drive would fit into a street scape of the same design
The house is a set in an L-shape around a courtyard garden, with the long face of the building to the street. The house was ideally intended to be part of a terrace, with a row of the houses along a street. In this case the short side would have faced the road, enabling more homes to be fitted into a street. The house is two storeys high, and constructed of reinforced concrete. As well as concrete, large use is made of steel, with metal windows, balustrades and balconies. A sun terrace at first floor level faces onto the garden, accessible from the bedrooms. The ground floor living area was open plan, but able to be subdivided if necessary.
A comparison of the sketch for 64 Heath Drive and its final form
The exhibition was also a competition, with different classes according to size and price. 64 Heath Drive was the winner in Class E (selling price £1475). As well as winning its class, it was well reviewed by the architectural press and even featured on packets of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes as a symbol of modernity, leading it to be locally nicknamed the “Kellogg House”. Like most houses of its era, it was prey to alterations, with an added room at terrace level and corner ground floor entrance slightly changed. The biggest alteration was the interior decoration, which was apparently made over by one owner with fake beams, oak panelling and Spanish tiles. Fortunately the house has been meticulously restored and was listed in 1997.
One of the other house designs in the exhibtion, by J. Moore Simpson
Skinner wasn’t content with designing houses for the well heeled, and in 1938 travelled to civil war-era Spain to study the effects of aerial bombardment with the aim of better designing air shelters. During World War II he served with the Royal Engineers and also volunteered to join the bomb disposal unit. When Tecton was disbanded in the early postwar years, Skinner declined an invitation to join Le Corbusier in his work at Chandigarh, India, and formed Skinner, Bailey and Lubetkin, continuing the social housing work started for Finsbury Borough with estates in Bethnal Green and Hackney. Skinner retired in the 1970s, living in Suffolk whilst teaching himself Russian and researching local architecture. He passed away in January 1998.
64 Heath Drive is one of the buildings featured in our new guidebook, Modernism Beyond Metro-Land, crowdfunding now. You can suppoort the book and get your copy HERE
22 Parkside, Wimbledon 1968-70 Richard and Su Rogers
22 Parkside by Richard and Su Rogers. Image from the Architectural Association Collection.
The career of Richard Rogers produced some of the most recognisable buildings of the late 20th Century. Structures such as Lloyds of London, the Millennium Dome and the Centre Pompidou brought High Tech design front and centre, with steel, glass and bright colours to the fore. Like many architects, his first solo projects were domestic designs for friends and family, and these first steps showcase many of the themes Rogers would return to in his later projects. The house we will explore in our 10th Anatomy of a House blog is 22 Parkside, a combined house and studio designed for his parents, opposite Wimbledon Common.
Rogers was born on 23rd July 1933 in Florence, Italy. His fathers’ Jewish family had moved from Sunderland to Italy In the 19th century, and made the return trip in 1938 as repression heightened under Mussolini. Rogers' uncle, Ernesto Nathan Rogers, was a prominent Italian architect, best known for his Velasca Tower in Milan from 1956 as part of the BBPR partnership.
After studying at Epsom College of Art and doing his national service, Rogers enrolled at the Architectural Association. He graduated in 1959 and was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to Yale, where he would meet his future wife, Su Brumwell, and Norman Foster. After briefly working for Skidmore Owings and Merrill in New York, he returned to England and set up the Team 4 partnership with Brumwell, Foster, Wendy Cheesman and her sister Georgie.
22 Parkside by Richard and Su Rogers. Image from the Architectural Association Collection.
The practice only lasted 4 years, but produced a handful of buildings that pointed away from the dominant brutalist style of the period towards what would become known as High Tech. Projects such as the house at Pill Creek, Foeck, the three houses in Murray Mews, Camden and the Reliance Control Factory in Swindon, turned away from concrete and used a combination of stock brick, steel and glass to make lighter, more adaptable designs than was prevalent at the time. After the group went their separate ways, Rogers worked with Sue Brumwell, who he had married in 1960. One of their first projects was a house and studio in Wimbledon for Rogers’ parents (the Creek Vean house had been a commission for Su’s parents).
22 Parkside interior. Image via Dezeen.
Plan of 22 Parkside house, studio and grounds.
The project consists of two single storey structures, the main house and a separate studio and flat. Both are constructed of a portal steel frame, painted bright yellow, with large areas of glazing to the north-east and south west. The walls to the south-east and north-west are made up of prefabricated aluminium and plastic panels. The steel frame, engineered by Anthony Hunt, allows the interior to be open plan, with flexibility in dividing up the internal space. The house was completed with two bedrooms, a study area (later used as a childrens bedroom), a utility area and large living space with a kitchen area running along the southeast side of the house. The interior also has built-in sliding doors which can be folded away, allowing the open space to be divided up. The two separate buildings face each other across a paved courtyard, with a planted mound on the street side to maintain some privacy.
The Zip Up House by Richard and Su Rogers. Image from RNDRD.
The house at Wimbledon was designed in the same period as two other projects that would shape its form. The Zip Up House was a project designed by Richard and Su as part of the DuPont House of Today competition, with the idea exhibited at the 1969 Ideal Home Exhibition. The Zip Up house was to have all its parts manufactured in a factory, and then quickly assembled on site. It was designed to be used at various locations, with adjustable legs for sloping sites, and could be extended by adding extra parts to the base structure. Like 22 Parkside, the Zip Up House’s exterior was bright yellow with an open-plan, flexible interior. Like many of the late 1960s futuristic architectural ideas (see also Archigram) it was never built.
The other contemporary project to Parkside was built, a single storey steel house and studio for photographer Humphrey Spender in Ulting, Essex. The Spender House was constructed of a steel frame, with cross bracing for support, with corrugated steel wall panels and concrete slab floors. The interior had a large living space, alongside bedrooms, a study and the kitchen. The separate studio space also includes an integrated carport. The Spender House was Grade II listed in 2012, and has been little altered since it was completed.
Spender House and Studio by Richard and Su Rogers. Images from RIBApix.
The house at Parkside was itself listed in 2013, and is currently Grade II*. From 1988 the house was occupied by one of the Rogers' sons, Ab, who extended the house. In 2013 it was put up for sale, and when the Rogers’ did not receive a suitable offer, the house was donated to the Harvard Graduate School of Design, who currently use it as a resource for architecture students. The house was restored to its original condition by architect Philip Gumuchdjian.
Richard Rogers of course went on to be one of the most famous and acclaimed architects of the post war era, winning prizes such as the RIBA Gold Medal, the Stirling prize and the Pritzker Prize. He was also knighted in 1991 and then made a peer in 1996. He retired from his practice, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners in June 2020, and died on 18th December 2021. He and Su divorced in the early 1970s. Richard married Ruth Elias in 1973, and Su married architect John Miller in 1985. After getting divorced from Rogers, Su taught at the AA and the RCA, and later became a partner with Colquhoun, Miller and Partners.
The Hoover Factory in Perivale, Ealing was officially opened on May 2nd 1933. Designed by the firm of Wallis, Gilbert & Partners, already well known at that time for their factory buildings on the ‘Golden Mile’ in Brentford, it has become a welcome landmark to many motorists and passengers along Western Avenue. Ten separate buildings were completed between 1932 and 1938 for Hoover, the ones facing the road ornate in their decoration, the ones hidden away much less so. The building has divided critics over the years with Nikolas Pevsner famously calling it “ perhaps the most offensive of the modernistic atrocities along this road typical of the by-pass factories”. Nevertheless the Hoover building was listed in October 1980, only months after its predecessor, the Firestone Factory in Brentford, had been demolished.
Hoover Factory Details. Image from Facade.
The Hoover company originated in Ohio, originally dealing in harness and leather goods. A suction cleaner was developed in 1907, and became the companies central focus when the decline in horse transport affected their other product lines. A small manufacturing premises in London was established in the 1920s, but within a few years a bigger factory was needed. A site on Western Avenue was chosen due to its road and rail links with London and the rest of the country, and also due to the availability of housing for its workers. The company desired an eye-catching building along the main road, and Wallis, Gilbert & Partners were already well known for working with American companies like Firestone as well as producing buildings that made heads turn.
The design of the first part of the scheme was overseen by architect Frederick Button, including the main office block facing Western Avenue. The block was designed in 1931, and stretches for 220 ft along the road, finished in generous glazing and decorated in coloured tiles. At either end are two staircase towers with quarter moon windows inspired by the work of Erich Mendelsohn. The main entrance doorway is spectacular, a riot of colour and patterns, designed to impress visitors and passers-by alike. The workers at the factory did not use this entrance, instead using the more circumspect door on the west side.
Upper Hallway, Hoover Factory. Image from Form and Fancy.
The decoration of the main block is largely informed by ancient Egyptian motifs, popular since the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb by Howard Carter in 1922. References to various deities, including Amun and Mut, are used, as well as Horus-eye shaped paving. Some people have seen North and Central American influences in the decoration, and linked it to Hoover’s origin in the Midwest of America, but no documentation of this has been found. Visitors and the directors using the main entrance would be guided up a sweeping staircase decorated by a metal representation of the fan motif used on the exterior, to a waiting area painted in more neutral colours.
Hoover Factory Frontage. Image from Facade.
A third floor and extensions were added to the main block in 1935, with more office space provided, and a couple of years later the canteen was moved to a separate building, designed by chief assistant John W. Macgregor. This can be found to the left hand side of the main block when facing it. The three storey canteen and garage block is constructed of reinforced concrete, and features a long vertical v-shaped window at the front, curved steel windows and a small deco clock. The Hoover factory did not just advertise its wares to the road in front, but also to the train line at the rear with a neon sign of the slogan “Beats as it sweeps as it cleans”. The building was also used in posters and adverts for the Hoover brand. Thomas Wallis was quite honest about the commercial aspect of his designs, telling the RIBA in 1933 that “ A little money spent on something to focus the attention of the public is not money wasted but a good advertisement”. The factory became part of popular culture with Elvis Costello writing and releasing a song about the building in 1980.
After Hoover left in the 1980’s, Tesco took over the buildings, converting the rear into a supermarket and letting out offices in the front. The main block has now been converted into apartments. A planning dispute flared up in 2019, when developers submitted plans to build a 22 storey residential building right behind the factory. Significant opposition objected to the plan, and eventually a new proposal with reduced height was passed.
Anatomy of a House No.9 Studio House, Duke’s Head Yard, Highgate 1937-40 Tayler & Green
Studio, Duke's Head Yard, Highgate (1937-40) by Tayler & Green
The subject of our ninth Anatomy of a House is of interest for its design, its patron and for the architects behind it. The house is known as the Studio House, located in Duke’s Head Yard just off Highgate High Street in the heights of North London. The architects were Herbert Tayler and David Green, a partnership both in work and at home. After meeting as students at the Architectural Association, they would work and live together for 60 years. Tayler and Green would become more well known in the postwar years for their work for Loddon Rural District Council, but the house in Duke’s Head Yard was their first big commission.
The Studio area at Duke's Head Yard. Image from RIBApix.
The house was commissioned by Roger Pettiward, a cartoonist known by the pen name of Paul Crum. As Crum, Pettiward drew cartoons for Punch, Night & Day and London Week, as well as painting under his own name. Pettiward had also travelled to Mato Grosso in Brazil in 1932 to search for the missing explorer Major Percy Harrison Fawcett, to no avail. Pettwiard had inherited his fathers estate in Finborough, Suffolk in 1933, but sold it 3 years later and commissioned Tayler and Green to design a house and studio in Highgate for him and his family. Pettiward only got to live in the house he commissioned briefly. In March 1940 he joined the Beds and Herts Regiment and was killed two years later on the raid on Dieppe on 19 August 1942.
The ground floor plan for Duke's Head Yard.
The roof terrace at Duke's Head Yard. Image from RIBApix.
The house itself is a great piece of International Style modernism, functional yet stylish. The house was built behind the Pettiward’s existing house on Highgate Hill, on the site of a coach house. It is three storeys high with a roof terrace and also a cellar. The house is built in brick, and has large strip windows to allow light into the second floor studio area. This space occupies almost the whole of the second floor with uninterrupted views to the north-east and north-west. The roof terrace has a small sitting room, with glazing on three sides which can be opened in good weather. On two sides of the terrace there was obscured glass for privacy.
Unlike the usual white walled look of the era's modernist houses, the Studio House was painted dark red on three sides and grey on the other, with the window frames in white. At the rear is a spiral staircase housed in a semicircular staircase tower. Inside, the house had flooring of oak plywood squares and fitted furniture including “cupboards, shelves, seating, lighting, heating pipes, mirrors, food lift, picture rails”. The house was listed in 1985, with the listing noting that the interior “survives remarkably intact”.
Other modernist studio houses of the era include Augustus John’s Studio house at Fordingbridge by Christopher Nicholson (1933), Dora Gordine’s house and studio for herself in Kingston (1937), Denys Lasdun’s house at 32 Newton Road, Paddington for F.J. Conway (1938), and Brackenfell in Cumbria (1938) by Leslie Martin and Sadie Speight for painter and designer Alistair Morton.
An example of Tayler and Green's work for Loddon UDC in the postwar years. Image from RIBApix.
Tayler and Green’s subsequent work was quite distinct from the Studio House. They moved from London to Lowestoft in 1941 and began their work for Loddon RDC, producing house types that responded to the locality and needs of the local population. Between 1945 and 1976, the duo produced over 700 houses spread over 26 villages in the area. The houses were usually in terraces or grouped together in units, traditionally styled in brick with pitched roofs. Their other projects include similar social housing in Basildon, Cambridge and Suffolk, and a factory in Uxbridge and house in Kingston for businessman A.G. Imhof. The pair retired in 1973 and moved to Altea in Spain, where they built themselves a house. Green died on 3rd October 1998, and Tayler on 3rd February 2000.
Like many of the European emigre architects of the 1930s, Peter Caspari’s career had three acts. The first was his early years practicing in Berlin, before the second act brought him to London for 17 years, before the final act saw him go on to make a major impact on the urban fabric of Toronto. Caspari was born in Berlin on 22nd April 1908, and he graduated for his architectural studies in 1931. The start of his career saw him working for Erich Mendelsohn, an obvious influence on some of his later work, and also coming into contact with the Nazi architect Albert Speer. He fled Germany in 1933 for Switzerland after participating in protests against the Nazi regime during his student years. He then moved to Britain, arriving in July 1933.
Kingsley Court, Willesden Green, 1934. Image from Modernism in Metro-Land
In London he first worked for Davis Estates, a speculative housing company, and its subsidiary the Central London Building Company, designing houses and apartment blocks. It is this part of his career that is of the most interest to us. He designed a number of houses in Hampstead Garden Suburb, as the arts and crafts suburb expanded and gently embraced modernism. Unlike the white walled houses designed by G.G. Winbourne found in Lytton Close, Caspari’s HGS houses fitted in perfectly to the prevailing Neo-Georgian environs. His houses on Norrice Lea (22-34 & 42), Litchfield Way (11,15,37 & 39) and Church Mount (22) are all in unrendered brick, usually with pitched, tiled roofs and wooden window shutters. The more moderne elements include vertical staircase windows and curved door bays. The windows on these houses also tend to have a strong vertical or horizontal emphasis.
Woodgrange House, Ealing 1949. Image from RIBApix.
He also designed a series of apartment blocks all around the suburbs of London. The most accomplished is Kingsley Court (1934) in Willesden Green, an apartment block set on a triangular plot next to the railway line, whose curves betray an obvious influence to Mendolsohn. Other apartments of interest by Caspari include Coleman Court in Wandsworth, (apparently one of the first reinforced buildings of its type in the UK), Glyn Court in Streatham, West End Court in Hampstead and Crescent Court in Surbiton. All these apartment buildings mix elements of the moderne; Crittall windows, art deco lettering, brick banding and curved corner windows, in an arrangement that wouldn’t frighten genteel suburbia.
Stanmore Assembley Hall. Image from A Different World by Charlotte Benton.
As war broke out Caspari applied to join the Pioneer Corps, the alternative would have been internment as an enemy alien. He later studied Military Engineering, and was stationed in Cambridge and then Mill Hill. After being discharged Caspari resumed his architectural practice in London, designing some houses, offices in Ealing and an assembly hall for Stanmore synagogue. He became disillusioned with life in postwar Britain and after a fact finding trip to North America, moved onto to Canada, where he would start the third act of his career in Toronto.
City Park Apartments, Toronto, 1959. Image from Spacing.
He began by working for the firm of Mathers and Haldenby before going it alone. His City Park of 1956 was the city's first postwar apartment block, and his buildings from the 1970s, such as the CIBC Tower and Sheppard Centre helped turn Toronto into an international city. He often took a dual role as both architect and developer, which brought into constant battles with Toronto's planning authorities, but his determined attitude often won out. Caspari retired in the early 1980’s and died in 1999.
This week on our social media feeds we have been celebrating the work of the Camden Borough Architects Department from the 1960s and 70s. So it is sad to see the news that one of its prime architects, Peter Tabori, has died. His work for the department consisted of three estates, all to a degree still in use as social housing. The most ambitious project was the first stage of Highgate New Town, a redevelopment of an area of Victorian houses, replaced with stepped concrete terraces.
Highgate New Town. Image from Art & Architecture.
Tabori’s life before Camden was as interesting as his later designs. He was born in Hungary in 1940, and was imprisoned after the 1956 Soviet invasion, due to the activities of his family. He was released after six months and fled to Britain to reunite with his relatives. Here, through family connections, he got a job with architect Cecil Eprile, (known for his synagogue designs) and studied architecture at Regent St Polytechnic. There, he was taught by some of the period's bright young things, including James Stirling and later Richard Rogers. Stirling got him a job with fellow Hungarian Erno Goldfinger, with whom he worked for during two different periods. Goldfinger was a great influence on Tabori, and took time to mentor his young assistant’s work.
University of East Anglia. Image from Art & Architecture.
Rogers was also an influence on Tabori, especially with his focus at the time on mass housing and prefabrication. Tabori would later help with drawings for Team 4’s Creek Vean house in Cornwall. Another star name, Denys Lasdun, was the external examiner for Tabori’s thesis, and was impressed enough to offer him a job. Tabori worked for Lasdun for 3 years, a period in which the partnership was designing the new University of East Anglia campus. Tabori took over detailing the precast concrete units needed for the project from Ted Cullinan, who had left to set up his own practice, working closely with the engineering consultants Arup.
Highgate New Town plan. Image from Tom Davies.
In 1967, Tabori was invited for an interview with Sydney Cook, who was looking to enliven Camden Borough Architects Department. Cook had already employed Neave Brown, and Tabori was enticed to move into local authority work by the fact that Brown was already there. Tabori’s thesis on mass housing typologies that Lasdun had examined, was used at the basis of the Highgate New Town project. The scheme had been planned by Richard Gibson, but Tabori and Kennth Adie took over the project, finishing the design in 1972, with the estate completed in 1978. A long terrace stretches along Raydon Street, with shorter terraces behind, neighbouring Highgate cemetery. In between the shorter terraces are pedestrianised communal areas, with the upper maisonettes reached by a steep staircase. The estate was later extended in a more Pomo fashion by Bill Forrest and Oscar Palacio.
Oakshott Estate, Somers Town. Image from RIBApix.
Tabori also designed the Oakshott estate in Somers Town (1972-6). The design is related to the Highgate project with stepped terraces, this time in an L-shape around a green space. The original brief had the estate finished in concrete but due to the department's workload, the project was given over to outside architects to finish. First it fell to Roman Halter, but he resigned due to ill health, before James Gowan was given the job of completing the estate, Gowan added the red brick finish we see today. Tabori’s third project was a small scheme on the junction of Mill Lane and Solent Road in West Hampstead (1981). Moving with the contemporary rejection of concrete, Tabori produced a design in red brick, with external walkways decked out in bright blue railings. Tabori also worked with Arup Associates on feasibility studies exploring the possibility of building homes, offices and shops over railway lines in built up areas. After a serious car crash, Tabori resigned from Camden and went to work in private practice.
Mark Swenarton- Cook's Camden: The Making of Modern Housing
Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner- The Buildings of England- London 4: North
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
The rise of the private ownership of cars in the 1920s and 30s led to a whole new industry to service the new consumer motorist. The whole process of buying, owning and servicing private motor cars needed a succession of new buildings; showrooms, garages, car parks and filling stations. The contemporary style of Art Deco and its closely related cousin, Streamline moderne, lent themselves perfectly to this new world of glamour and speed. The same styles were applied to the other modes of transport like flying and going to sea, but having a car was slightly more attainable for the man who was still riding the Clapham Omnibus.
Stewart & Ardern poster from 1930, featuring a photo of their Acton Works. Image from Graces Guide.
Traditionally, car showrooms had been situated in the west end of London, around Great Portland Street and Piccadilly, but in the 1930s, sleek looking buildings in white render sprung up next to the newly built roads around the suburbs of London, such as the Great West Road, Western Avenue and the Great Cambridge Road. The most eye-catching set of these buildings belonged to the Stewart and Ardern company, exclusive sellers of Morris cars in the greater London area. The company was formed in 1911 by Gordan Stewart and Lawrence Ardern, building up a network of 11 dealerships around the South East, as well as offices in Bond Street and Berkley Square and a works in Acton Vale.
Advert showing the prospective Morris House in Ilford from 1933. Image from Graces Guide.
Morris House in Ilford, as built. Image from RIBApix
From the start of the 1930s, they built brand new dealerships reflecting the spirit of the machine age. The architect for these new places of the motor car was Stewart Cameron Kirby (1898-1955), an architect and furniture designer originally from Norwich. Kirby is credited with designing at least three showrooms for Stewart & Ardern; Ilford (1934), Staines (1934) and Catford (1935). The company also had a showroom at North Harrow built as part of a parade of shops and flats, its mixture between neo-Georgian and art deco fits in with its meek suburban neighbours, despite the attention seeking clock tower. It is unclear if Kirby was responsible for designing this building.
The interior of the Ilford showroom. Image from RIBApix.
The three showrooms at Ilford, Staines and Catford throw off any thoughts of fitting in, and look to proclaim themselves as the ideal places to join the new motoring revolution. The three buildings are all curves and sleekness. Their horizontal emphasis is punctuated by tall curved towers at Catford and Staines. Like other contemporary forms of transport they look to communicate speed, modernity and ease. The dour brick of the North Harrow showroom is replaced by flawless white render and acres (or at least metres) or glass. The large windows were designed to show off the cars at all times, showing off the cars to passing motorists.
Stewart & Ardern Showroom, Staines. Image from RIBApix.
The interiors were fitted out in chromium, steel and glass, dazzling customers with a vision of the future, similar to HG Wells “The Shape of Things to Come, published in 1933, and the subsequent film of 1936. The cars were spaced out inside, allowing prospective customers to be able to see all the way around the cars on show. One slightly jarring note in the photos of the showroom interiors are the cars themselves, looking very boxy and unwieldy compared to their surroundings.
Three of these four buildings still exist, with two of them still in the business of selling cars (North Harrow and Staines). The Ilford building still exists but looks a shadow of its former self, these days, (you can find it at 543-549 High Road, Ilford). The Catford showrooms seem to have disappeared with the passing of time. Stewart and Arden’s other showrooms were located in South Tottenham, Croydon, Golders Green, Sutton and Southend, all designed in a more classical style. Part of the Golders Green building still survives as a Kwik Fit centre at 1287 Finchley Road.
Daimler Hire Garage, Bloomsbury (1931) by Wallis, Gilbert & Partners. Images from Architectural Assocation Archives.
The other architects were mentioning when talking of the design of interwar car showrooms was that of Wallis, Gilbert & Partners, famed for the factory designs along the arterial roads mentioned earlier. The company designed the Daimler Hire Garage in Bloomsbury in 1931, a four-storey building containing a garage, offices, coach station and car park, designed in a similar modernistic style to Cameron Kirby’s showrooms. Wallis, Gilbert & Partners also designed a showroom and service station for Henley’s (1937) on the Great West Road, near their art deco factories for Pyrene, Coty and Firestone. The forty metre high, curved clock tower later became famous for advertising Martini when it was converted into a warehouse for the company. The building caught fire in 1989, and an office building was built on the site, retaining the clock tower. Wallis Gilbert and Partners also built car showrooms at Great Portland Street in 1926 and for Packard Ltd on the Great West Road in 1929, as well as service stations for Brew Bros, Old Brompton Road (1933) and Godfrey Davies in Neasden (1939).
Design for the Olympia Garage (1937) by Joseph Emberton. Image from RIBApix.
Other interwar showrooms and garages worth mentioning include the Rootes building (1939) in Maidstone, a streamlined car showroom designed by Howard and Souster, now listed and turned into apartments. Gollys Garage on Earl’s Court Road (1935) wasn't so lucky. It was designed by the firm of Seymer, Orman and Adie and had a canopy fitted with glass bricks to allow more daylight onto the forecourt and an exterior decorated with ceramic tilework.
The Olympia Garage in West Kensington was built as part of the extension to the Olympia exhibition hall by Joseph Emberton from 1935-37. The garage building is a functionalist design in reinforced concrete with brick facing, influenced by Erich Mendolsohn’s designs in Europe. The garage is Grade II listed but the Olympia complex is currently undergoing conversion into a residential complex. Emberton also designed showrooms for Crown Motors at 71-77 Great Portland Street in 1937, in a similarly sleek fashion.
References Michael John Law- 1930s London: The Modern City Alistair Forsyth and Peter Fowler- Buildings for the Age: New Building Types 1900-1939 Joan Skinner- Form and Fancy: The Factory Buildings of Wallis, Gilbert & Partners 1916-1939