Architecture by Eldridge Smerin

The House in Highgate Cemetry is one of the most unusual modern homes, perhaps even more unusual because of its location, the Highgate Cemetry in London.

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 located on the footprint of the existing house. It 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. 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. Prior to work starting on site John Winter was philosophical about the demolition of the house he had designed, saying that there would be no hard feelings ‘so long as the new house was better’. 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’. The project won a Royal Institute of British

Architects Award in 2009 and a Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association Award in 2008.