House designed by Peter Aldington on a simple structural and spatial proposition
1971 August: House at Prestwood, Buckinghamshire
To provide a spacious but practical family house with a large enough kitchen to eat in and a separate dining room, a large living room and a single bedroom-cum-study plus all the usual accommodation that four children and an au pair make necessary. There was, however, a stipulation that this last should be a separate area with its own access. There was also a strong wish to exploit the view which could only be seen at first floor level. The client’s wife wished to have a balcony and to see the staircase made into a dominant feature.
Two-storey with parental living-sleeping and study upstairs. Children, au pair, and all eating downstairs. Balcony to living room also used by the main bedroom. Structurally segregated into a series of brick enclosures defining closed spaces linked to each other by in situ concrete beams. Walls in ‘free areas’ either glass or non-loadbearing timber.
The first of these houses by Peter Aldington is designed on a simple structural and spatial proposition. There are strongly defined areas and freely flowing areas. The defined areas are contained by enclosing brick walls and between and around these enclosures, beams and cantilevers support the floors, the roof, the glazing and the timber walls of the contrastingly freely planned areas. The theory seems a natural one for this house, for its rules never obtrude but contribute to the ease with which the spaces flow gracefully.
As with its volumes, so with the structural aesthetic which follows its own strict precepts. Every concrete beam must be seen to sit firmly on its brick wall and every timber joist must express its proper structural relationship both with what it supports and the way in which it transfers the load to other members and eventually to the ground. Such a structure is not necessarily intended to be the most efficient but is designed principally to demonstrate how it works, and this it does with great conviction.
What is disarming about Prestwood is that none of the strictly self-imposed disciplines of its language are immediately obvious. This is because there is evidence of enjoyment in the design process and of considerable architectural verve. It is inherent in the structural idea that the materials should be natural-brick and timber.
Externally the bricks are yellow stocks and the woodwork is stained dark brown. Inside, the brickwork is painted white and the beams and ceilings are of natural pine. There is no dichotomy between the outside and the inside as the size of the units of construction is the same, and the whole adds up to a consistent statement in which the scale of forms and spaces has been modulated to great effect.
The living room of the house is on the first floor. It is a long room opening on to a timber terrace with a balustrade of solid timber, stained dark brown, along one side. This is an insistent element and has the effect of defining an open-air space outside the room, and of completely changing the nature of the space and the view depending on whether they are seen from a sitting or standing position. The children’s rooms are grouped on the ground floor together with a play space.
Since the kitchen and dining areas are only two steps away this must make it an easy house to run even when it is up to its full complement of four children and an au pair girl. There are two eating areas: a pine-boarded dining compartment next to the kitchen for general family use, and an open area between the entrance and the kitchen for the sort of meal which is slightly more of an occasion.
Both arrangements are informal and can fit a whole range of family needs. The freer space looks out into the garden through a large expanse of glass which seems to disappear into a pool right up against the house at this point.
Clients: Company director, wife, four children and au pair girl.
Site: 0.3 acres of orchard garden, long and thin, sold off by an adjoining house, in an arcadian, commuter-belt suburb.
First floor: 980 sq ft (88’ 3 m²).
Ground floor (excluding carport and stores) : 1320 sq ft (122’ 6 m²).
Living room: 480 sqft (44’6 m²).
Main bedroom: 138 sq ft (12, 8 m²).
Study/bedroom: 78 sq ft (7’ 2 m²).
Kitchen: 246 sq ft (22’ 9 m²).
Dining room: 160 sq ft (14-9 m²).
Bedrooms: 492 sq ft (45’ 7 m²).
Playroom: 198 sq ft (18’4 m²).
Carport: 399 sq ft (37 -1 m²).
Total circulation: 175 sq ft (16’ 3 m²).
Total area: 2921 sq ft (271’4 m²).
Car parking: Separate triple carport.
First floor, timber ‘loft’ stabilised by brick bathroom and staircase towers rising through both floors. Loadbearing brick elsewhere with openings and spaces spanned by in situ rc beams which carry floor or roof joists. Roofing is boarded on the ground floor and flaxboard on the first floor laid on 7in by 3in exposed joists.
Externally, London rough stocks and medium-brown, waterproof stained boarding. Internally, white-painted, fair-face Fletton bricks, timber partitions. Grey Delabole slate floors everywhere on the ground floor except in the playroom and children’s bedrooms which are maple strip, as is the whole of the first floor. Staircase has maple treads, Douglas fir balustrades, and is supported off the walls by lin square stainless steel rods.
Mechanical: Oil-fired, warm-air heating housed in the ground floor of the bathroom tower.
Cost: £25,000 (£8 -55 per sq ft).
Twentieth Century Architects
The C20 Society, with English Heritage and RIBA Publications, has published a monograph on the work of Aldington, Craig and Collinge, by Alan Powers (December 2009) .
The C20 Society campaigns for the preservation of post 1914 buildings, find out more and become a member on the C20 website.