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Unique concrete 1960s house in Hampstead given listed status this year

PUBLISHED: 15:12 26 June 2015 | UPDATED: 15:12 26 June 2015

78 South Hill Park, Hampsted, NW3. 
General view of ground floor dining space

78 South Hill Park, Hampsted, NW3. General view of ground floor dining space

©English Heritage

European Modernism, Classical philosophy and Eastern mythology were among the inspirations for an unconventional concrete 1960s house in Hampstead, one of 510 places given listed status this year.

78 South Hill Park, Hampsted, NW3.
General view of front elevation.78 South Hill Park, Hampsted, NW3. General view of front elevation.

The house at 78 South Hill Park, which is now grade II-listed, backs on to the Heath and was designed by architect Brian Housden to live in with his family.

Finished in 1965, the house is supported by reinforced concrete ground beams and the walls are faced with Venetian white glass mosaic, panels of glass lenses and bands of narrow steel windows.

Hampstead has a rich heritage of Modern architecture boasting homes by Neave Brown, Norman Foster and Ernő Goldfinger, with whom Housden had a series of encounters from being offered (and turning down) casual work for the architect, to a final meeting during the Winter of Discontent in 1978-79, when the pair bumped into each other throwing their rubbish into the compound between their houses. However, South Hill Park combines various influences, including but not limited to International Modernism, to create a quite singular building.

This distinction is brought to light through comparison with the buildings by Howell and Amis directly next door, which adhere to a more conventional terraced layout and plate glass aesthetic.

Described by Historic England as “a completely unique piece of architectural vision and ingenuity that synthesises a great wealth of influences and ideas and is executed with an intensity and conviction that is entirely personal,” the house is Housden’s only finished building. As such, it offers a tantalising glimpse of what might’ve been in a career that was instead based around Housden’s editorial work at the Architectural Association journal.

Unlike many of its neighbours, the house makes no concessions to the Victorian town houses that make up the historic buildings on the street. Its squat exterior lies well below the houses on either side, with an arrangement of jutting walls, windows and slabs of concrete, topped by the heavy concrete roof, half of which projects over a void with the precarity of an advanced game of Jenga.

There is little colour here but an air of cheerful domesticity is lent by pink-bordered Crittal window panels and by the internal rust and mustard curtains, which form a backdrop to the glass windows from outside.

The door bell is industrial issue (a common feature throughout the house) and the front door handle bears an Ancient Greek inscription.

Once inside, diffuse natural light from the glass lenses fills the simple yet comfortable space. Untreated concrete ceilings and exposed copper pipes, which snake throughout the house from the orange boiler tank on the lower ground floor, pre-figure a High-Tech approach to domestic architecture.

Having gone three times over budget, the house was completed and furnished piecemeal but in accordance with Housden’s original plans.

According to an essay by Tom Brooks in Housden’s alma mater, AA Files, when Brian, his wife Margaret and their three daughters moved into the house in 1964 it was still very much unfinished, with only polythene covering the window openings until permission was achieved for the glass lenses.

Margaret cooked over a standpipe and Baby Belling in the early days, while her mother donated £1,000 for the family to install a bath – which Housden found for £20 using the rest of the money to further construction.

A 14-piece set of furniture by Gerret Rietveld was brought back from the workshop in the Netherlands on the roofrack of Housden’s Morris Minor piece by piece over several trips.

Housden lived in the house with his wife, Margaret, until his death late last year and the house is still in residential use today.

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