House in Highgate Cemetary

House in Highgate Cemetary

Eldridge London Architects
London, United Kingdom
Lyndon Douglas

House in Highgate Cemetery

Eldridge London Architects as Architects

Inspired by seeing Eldridge Smerin’s Stirling Prize shortlisted house The Lawns, on Highgate Hill in north London, the owner of a nearby house approached the practice about designing a new house on the same site. The existing house dating from the 1970’s was designed by noted Architect John Winter and sat next to Highgate Cemetery, London's greatest Victorian cemetery. Although the site offered spectacular views over the cemetery, Waterlow Park opposite and the city skyline beyond, replacing a John Winter house is a decision not taken lightly. When Eldridge Smerin had investigated options for either retaining the corroding steel structure or for replacement, it was clear that to restore the Winter house would have required complete reconstruction and would have compromised the greater potential for a new house on such a unique site. The resulting new house is is set over four floors with a generous proportion of living to bedroom space including balconies, terraces and a sizable sliding glass rooflight enabling the top floor to become an open-air court. The new house is conceived with two strongly contrasting faces. To the street a sheer façade of honed black granite, translucent glass and black steel panels set flush to one another echoes the massiveness of the cemetery wall. This gives the house an air of mystery and intrigue whilst also making reference to the monumental masonry of the cemetery. In contrast, the elevations facing the cemetery are largely glazed, suffusing the interior with natural light and washing the fair-faced concrete structural frame and walls with sunlight. The use of a concrete frame with a high quality exposed finish internally also allows a more sustainable environmental strategy for the house to be developed than the lightweight construction of the original house allowed. The intention was to produce a house with significantly lower energy usage than the original even with an increased floor area. The slow heat response characteristics of the concrete allow the frame to act as an environmental modifier slowing down heat gain in summer and limiting heat loss in winter whilst the form of the house with large glazed openings facing south allow passive solar gain to be maximised during winter months. The use of stone cladding and a green sedum roof system similarly help control temperature fluctuations. The interior spaces are linked vertically by a series of large areas of clear glass floor panels which filter daylight from the main sliding rooflight down to the entrance area off the street. Full height frameless pivoted doors veneered in bog aged oak separate the living spaces and bedrooms from the main stair. The stair itself has pre-cast concrete treads cantilevered from the concrete walls each side with a clear glass fin to the centre supporting a stainless steel handrail which is resin bonded to the glass. The fin is formed from two four metre high sheets of toughened laminated glass which were craned into position through a slot created in the roof slab. Reviewing the completed house for Architecture Today magazine John Winter was generous enough to say he felt the new house was both better and 'as near to a faultless building as I have seen for a long time'.

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