Highgate House by Carmody Groarke

By Matt Balmer
February 4, 2018

How should a house respond to its surroundings? Andy Groarke of architects practice Carmody Groarke reflects on the challenges presented by this new-build home in north London.

“The proposition of this new family home examines a fundamental tension of architecture – the responsibility to belong to its surroundings in terms of scale, proportion and material, whilst facilitating the patterns of everyday lives through the making of rooms.

“The original commission was to replace an existing large detached Edwardian house with a new family home. The old house reflected a pattern of living far more relevant to life more than a century ago. Benign in character and quality, it blended into the typical set piece of the suburban streetscape. Any architecture appearing different to its surrounding status quo was always going to be treated with suspicion by the neighbourhood. A conversation began with our client about what they wanted – a new home allowing them to live very differently to what the original house allowed, and at the same time, a preoccupation with creating architecture defined by good-quality rooms and with a sense of material substance.

“The resulting new detached family house creates a strong relationship between its context, its external form and the composition of its internal spaces. A clear language of public and private is defined spatially and by the elevations of the house. The large central hall becomes the spatial composition’s determining element. It defines the centre piece of the radiating arrangement of masses, which relate in scale and grain to the neighbouring houses and suburban condition. Simultaneously, the hall reinforces a hierarchy of rooms within the house according to patterns of living: open-plan living spaces on the ground floor, and more conventional cellular rooms on the upper levels.

“Material choices were carefully considered to reinforce the spatial configuration internally. The sculptural use of brick is the most striking, giving the architecture physical consistency and presence throughout. Brick provides coherence with the surrounding detached houses. Although manifestly abstract in its use – covering all surfaces inside and out – it retains the association of traditional craft embedded in the eclectic architecture of the north London suburb. To accentuate the central hall’s scale, the staircase and gallery are expressed as a large furniture installation crafted in black smoked-oak. The reflective sheen of the white polished plaster ceiling with its central circular oculus further reinforces the extraordinary vertical proportions of the room.”