Adam’s House in Paradise

The courtyard house may be ancient, but it is still contemporary and modern. This became apparent to me on a recent trip to London, during which I was fortunate enough to stay with a friend who lives in an exquisite single-story L-shaped house with its own private courtyard. The house was originally built as part of the Cotton Garden housing estate in the 1960s and forms part of a cluster of 21 courtyard houses in a park.

Adam bought the house a decade ago and renovated it with the help of Cox Bulleid Architects, converting it from a compact and efficient three bedroom house into more of an open-plan house to suit his lifestyle. The remarkable thing about the renovation is its invisibility: The house barely looks like it’s been renovated, updated or restored in any way. Such resilience attests to the exceptional quality of the original design, by none other than the Architect’s Department of the London Borough of Lambeth.

From the exterior, these houses barely look like houses. With their long stretches of one story high solid brick walls in which the only exterior door or window openings occur at offsets, and with trees poking out from behind, the architecture resembles a garden wall (which in fact it is, in part). The idea of unifying the architectural wall with the garden wall can of course be seen in ancient Pompeii, Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion as well as his unbuilt courtyard housing schemes of the 1930s, and, in the 1980s, the Casa das Artes in Porto, Portugal, by Eduardo Souto de Moura.It is worth noting, given the contemporary architectural climate, that there was once a time when talented architects sought to make well-designed housing accessible to a majority of people without seeking fame and notoriety. What a concept.

Cotton Garden Estate courtyard houses and tower blocks
The large sliding door into the courtyard is part of the renovation,
as are the doors of the other wing, which were previously windows.

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  1. May not be there much longer… Lambeth Council has plans to “densify” the estate, and rumours are flying around.

  2. You might consider making moves to have these houses protected as modern movement heritage. At the 2012 Venice Biennale, there was an exhibition titled ‘Public Works: Architecture by Civil Servants’ (curated by OMA-AMO) that raised attention on little-known masterpieces such as these, and that re-evaluated the work of councils and civil-servant architects.
    Talk to someone at DocoMoMo (Documentation and Conservation of Modern Movement), and/or RIBA, The Architecture Foundation, etc.. CCA could also be approached.

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