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House in Highgate Cemetery

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    House in Highgate Cemetery


    House in Highgate Cemetery, London
    2006-08
    Eldridge Smerin, Architects
    Project Description
    Inspired by seeing Eldridge Smerin’s Stirling Prize shortlisted houseThe Lawns, on Highgate Hill in north London, the owner of a nearbyhouse approached the practice about designing a new house on the samesite. The existing house dating from the 1970’s was designed by notedArchitect John Winter and sat next to Highgate Cemetery, London'sgreatest Victorian cemetery. Although the site offered spectacularviews over the cemetery, Waterlow Park opposite and the city skylinebeyond, replacing a John Winter house is a decision not taken lightly.When Eldridge Smerin had investigated options for either retainingthe corroding steel structure or for replacement, it was clear thatto restore the Winter house would have required complete reconstructionand would have compromised the greater potential for a new house onsuch a unique site.
    PhotographsLyndon Douglas
    The resulting new house is located on the footprint of the existinghouse. It is set over four floors with a generous proportion of livingto bedroom space including balconies, terraces and a sizable slidingglass rooflight enabling the top floor to become an open-air court.The new house is an additional storey higher than the previous oneand is conceived with two strongly contrasting faces. To the streeta sheer façade of honed black granite, translucent glass and blacksteel panels set flush to one another echoes the massiveness of thecemetery wall. This gives the house an air of mystery and intriguewhilst 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-facedconcrete structural frame and walls with sunlight. Unlike the lowerpart of the cemetery where people often go to see Karl Marx's grave,the upper part where the house is located is overgrown and largelyunvisited allowing it to act as a stunning backdrop for the spaceswithin the house. The full height glazing to the perimeter of thehouse was enabled by the use of flat concrete slabs with long cantileversback to the four central columns supporting each floor. The concretesupporting internal and external areas was kept separate to providea thermal break between inside and out. In contrast to the smoothfair-faced finish of the concrete columns and soffits and the smoothstone flooring, the concrete walls facing the street and adjoiningproperty to the north have a strong horizontal pattern from the timberboards used to shutter the concrete.
    The use of a concrete frame with a high quality exposed finish internallyalso allows a more sustainable environmental strategy for the houseto be developed than the lightweight construction of the originalhouse allowed. The intention was to produce a house with significantlylower energy usage than the original even with an increased floorarea. The slow heat response characteristics of the concrete allowthe frame to act as an environmental modifier slowing down heat gainin summer and limiting heat loss in winter whilst the form of thehouse with large glazed openings facing south allow passive solargain to be maximised during winter months. The use of stone claddingand a green sedum roof system similarly help control temperature fluctuations.The use of concrete as a structure and finish, when sourced from alocal plant that uses a proportion of recycled material, helps minimisethe embodied energy in the envelope of the house as does the choiceof generally natural materials for the internal finishes. Internallya low temperature hot water underfloor heating system is used in conjunctionwith the thermal mass of the house to maintain comfortable conditionswith minimised energy usage. The high natural light levels mean thereis little need for artificial lighting during daylight hours whilstall light fittings use low energy lamps.
    The interior spaces are linked vertically by a series of large areasof clear glass floor panels which filter daylight from the main slidingrooflight down to the entrance area off the street. Full height framelesspivoted doors veneered in bog aged oak separate the living spacesand bedrooms from the main stair. The stair itself has pre-cast concretetreads cantilevered from the concrete walls each side with a clearglass fin to the centre supporting a stainless steel handrail whichis resin bonded to the glass. The fin is formed from two four metrehigh sheets of toughened laminated glass which were craned into positionthrough a slot created in the roof slab. Bathrooms on each floor arelined with white corian and have white marble floors. Eldridge Smerinwere also responsible for designing bespoke joinery and furniturethroughout the house. Built-in storage is generally in timber behindwhite lacquered doors but the Music Room on the first floor has awall of storage units in h
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