Slab, point-access
Highpoint I & II
Lubetkin, Bertold & Tecton | London, England | 1935 & 1938
Image of Highpoint ...
View from the west, Highpoint I (l) & Highpoint II (r).

ProjectHighpoint I & II
ArchitectLubetkin, Bertold & Tecton
CityLondon
CountryEngland
AddressNorth Hill N6
Building TypeSlab, point-access
Number of Dwellings72
Date Built1935 & 1938
Dwelling Types2 & 3BR flats; 4 BR maisonettes
No. Floors7-8
Section Typeflats and maisonettes
Exterior Finish
Materials
concrete, metal windows, brick, ceramic tile
Construction TypePoured-in-place concrete walls/ R-C frame
Ancillary Servicessome parking, common spaces, garden

Bertold Lubetkin was born in Tiflis, Georgia in 1901. After some early art training in Moscow he went to Berlin in 1922 to study art history. Later he studied architecture in Warsaw and in 1925 moved to Paris and enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux Arts where he was in the atelier of August Perret. While in Warsaw, Lubetkin met Jean Ginsberg, another student at the School of Architecture in Warsaw and later they went to school together at the Ecole Speciale in Paris. In 1928, the two young architects designed an apartment building at 25 Avenue de Versailles. Located in Auteuil in the 16th arrondisement, near the La Roche house by Le Corbusier and Jeanerret and the houses by Mallet Stevens, this building was widely published.

Lubetkin immigrated to England in 1931 and founded the Tecton group in 1932 with Anthony Chitty, Lindsey Drake, Michael Dougdale, Val Harding, Godfrey Samuel and Francis Skinner. While Tecton was best known for the Finsbury Health Center, 1938 and their buildings at the London Zoo, they designed several housing projects. The Highpoint apartments, so-called because of their location on a hill above Hampstead, are one of the best examples of early International Style architecture in London. Located at the corner of a landscaped area along North Road, they were built in two phases, Highpoint I built in 1935 and Highpoint II finished in 1938.

Highpoint I was built for Sigmund Gestetner who owned the company that manufactured office equipment. Gestetner was interested in designing housing for his workers in the Camden area but later purchased the site on top of the hill. He seems to have been an ideal client who had an informed outlook on contemporary culture and was thus sympathetic to the idea of a modernist block of middle class apartments. Highpoint I contains 64 flats in two, connected, seven-story cruciform towers. The double cruciform is aligned perpendicular to the street. Entrance is made in one end through a curving porte cochere and connects to common lobby and shared spaces at the ground floor including a winter garden, stepping down one level to a tea room and terrace at the opposite end of the building overlooking a garden on the slope below. There are two elevator cores in the lobby one at the crossing of each cruciform and the residential floors above are organized as two point-access towers each with 4 flats per floor, two 2 bedroom and two 3 bedroom dwellings. There are shared roof terraces. The pilotis expression of the structure at the ground floor contrasts with the poured-in-place concrete walls of the upper floors. The facades are organized with alternating zones of steel strip windows and cantilevered balconies.

Highpoint I incorporated many innovative features and was technically very advanced for the time. The concrete walls were built using a system of removable platforms that eliminated the need for scaffolding and making the walls and floors monolithic. The construction system was chosen instead of the normal concrete frame to avoid problems with pour joints, to reduce the possibility of structural cracks and because it was less expensive. While the system was common in civil engineering this was the first time it was applied to building construction. Other innovations included ceiling hot water radiant panels, built-in refrigerators that had a central condenser in the basement, a separate system of small service elevators to the kitchen areas, folding windows that slid to one side of the opening and very carefully designed kitchens bathrooms, and a system of built-in cabinets and wardrobes with roller shutters that fit beneath the spine beam supporting the middle of the slab.

Shortly after Highpoint I was finished, Lubetkin convinced Gestetner to purchase the neighboring parcel to the south which included an existing Georgian house built up the property line at the south edge of one of the Highpoint cruciform blocks. The plan was to build more middle class housing as a continuation of Highpoint I. Public reaction to Highpoint I, however, resulted in design changes to the second building. Neighbors unhappy about the construction of this large block of what to them looked like working class housing in their neighborhood, formed the Highgate Preservation Committee that was granted review powers by the Town and Country Planning Act of 1932. They insisted that any future buildings had to preserve the architectural character of the neighborhood. After a lengthy review and negotiation process, during which many different designs were considered, the building size was limited to one-fifth the size of the original. This reduction of the number of apartments coupled with the cost, which had doubled, resulted in a strategy to design luxury apartments instead of flats. The original design of 57 flats was thus reduced to 12 maisonettes.

The scheme that was decided upon is a linear slab that is slightly detached from but extends from the leg of one of the cruciform towers. It too consists of two joined, point access, 8-story elements that share a common lobby and has a roof terrace. The facades clearly express this idea where the end treatment containing 2 maisonettes per floor continues the wall and punched openings of the flats in Highpoint I while the central zone of maisonettes is treated as a vertical zone of two-story high recessed glass walls with cantilevered balconies occurring at every other floor. The structural idea also compliments this idea. Both end zones are built with concrete walls using the slip-form technique that was used in Highpoint I. The central area, however, is made using a standard concrete frame. In this zone, dark brick is used for the spandrels between floors except at the double-height zone that is continuous glass. Each of the maisonettes in the central zone has a double-height volume but the smaller apartments in the end zones do not, however, they do have an extra room. The maisonette package of the end apartments is not obvious in the elevations except where the balconies project from the living room. The zone of the double height spaces is articulated in the garden elevation as is the expression of the combination of infill frame and load-bearing wall. On the street elevation each stair tower is expressed as a continuous vertical zone of glass block that is curiously detached from the ground. The ground floor is organized as a common lobby with an elevator at each end. A zone of garages at the ground floor block the view to the west and the garden so that the path of entry is directed right or left to ramps leading to the elevator areas. The long slab is organized with a zone of service spaces and circulation along the street and the living areas of each dwelling face west to a spectacular view of London. The clear but austere facades of Highpoint I have now been continued in a way that creates a more frontal condition and entry along the street while opening to the distant views and gardens on the slope to the west. The more complex spatial parti of the zone of maisonettes results in a more developed sculptural expression of the exterior. Any criticism about the insertion of social housing in an established residential neighborhood must certainly have been muted by the change in imagery from the functionalist flats of Highpoint I to the building of these luxurious apartments in Highpoint II.

Lubetkin designed an extraordinary penthouse apartment for himself on the roof and lived here until 1955. Occupying the central zone of the building and rendered as a vaulted, Georgian Dacha, complete with rustic furniture, a vaulted roof, and pine paneling, this lush villa enjoyed a view across London from top of what was the highest building in the city at the time. Le Corbusier's Porte Molitor apartment in Paris completed 5 years earlier, in the same area of Paris as Lubetkin's Avenue de Versailles apartments, must certainly be seen as a prototype for the Highpoint penthouse; a vaulted rustic villa on top of a building overlooking a park.

While the appeal of the great collective housing experiments of the Constructivists, the siedlung of Berlin or the concentration of Functionalist architecture in Holland, Czechoslovakia or Sweden, was less strong in England in the 1930's, Highpoint I & II can be seen as an ideological fulcrum between pre and post-war Europe. These two buildings are a reference to previous modernist ideas, cruciform towers, roof terraces, pilotis and an urbanism of buildings free-standing in a landscaped site, and to specific buildings, Plan Voisin and Immeuble Clarte, for example. They are also the prototypes for later forms of European housing. In particular, the repetitive tower forms of the Swedes, O.M. Ungers, and the Candilis, Josic,Woods work in France come to mind. While the double cruciform of Highpoint I was quintessentially a free-standing building in space, Highpoint II is a building that defines space so that Highpoint is a reference to both the messianic urbanism of Le Corbusier and the counter belief that became prevalent in the 1980's that these forms were incompatible with traditional city-building. Lubetkin and Tecton continued to build housing in the post-war era. Most of this was public housing that must have come closer to fulfilling the social program imbedded both in the social polemic of Modern Architecture and the background of Lubetkin who had been close to the Russian and German social housing experiments of the 1920's. These later projects, however, lacked the singular brilliance of Highpoint I & II.

Yorke, F.R.S., The Modern Flat, The Architectural Press, London, 1937, p. 134.

Allan, John, Bertold Lubetkin, RIBA Publications, London, 1992.

Coe, Peter, & Malcom Reading, Lubetkin and Tecton; Architecture and Social Commitment, Arts Council of Great Britain, London, 1981.

Diel, Thomas,

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