Eldridge Smerin’s stunning glass house at Highgate Cemetery
Eldridge Smerin’s new house in Highgate is the subject of the first in a new BD series on materials in application. Here, Michael Stacey explores the way glass is used inside and out at the house
Glass should be used wisely — to provide daylight, enclosure, structure and amenity. In the hands of an inventive architect and a skilful engineer, it can also provide delight.
This is clearly the case with a new house at Highgate in north-west London designed by Nick Eldridge, partner at Eldridge Smerin Architects, and structural engineer Gary Elliott of Elliott Wood Partnership.
The entry to the house is via the east elevation, immediately off Swains Lane. Walking up the cantilevered concrete stair and crossing the generously dimensioned structural glass landing in the first floor music room, the visitor is struck by the quiet beauty of Highgate Cemetery, revealed by the all-glazed south and west walls.
The design fully exploits the genius loci. This is a spacious house on a tight plot — every millimetre of the site has been used, it is built hard up against the neighbouring graves. The visual parameters of the music room, kitchen and study are not defined by the line of thermal enclosure but by the cemetery and views of London.
Despite the seeming transparency of the house, the percentage of glass used to solid wall construction is only 32%. The use of a low-emissivity coating and an argon-filled cavity produces a U-value for the double glazing of 1.7w/m2K. The opaque, exposed wall U-value of 0.16w/m2K and the roof at 0.25w/m2K achieved Part L compliance.
This is crystalline modern architecture, yet rooted in earlier traditions, having aspects of an Italian tower house, with the base devoted to services and storage, and two floors of generous living, eating and work space above. Glass is used thoughtfully throughout the house. The client works at an all-glass desk which was designed by Eldridge with Italian manufacturer Santambrogio.
The plan form of the glass enclosure alternates between the first and second floors as the balconies swap between the west and south facades respectively. The acute-angled glass corners are a consequence of Eldridge’s desire to keep each key elevation as a pure rectangle. The plan of the house has a clear separation between the public rooms to the south and the private rooms to the north, nesting against the party wall. This separation is emphasised by a slot and layered construction on the columns grid. Even in this more private zone, daylight is conducted into the bathrooms by a light shaft.
A “courtyard” is formed by a sliding glass rooflight over the second floor kitchen. There is an effortlessness in the support of the frameless glazing by glass beams, and only when it is fully retracted does the presence of the rooflight become apparent.
Presence and absence are recurring themes within this house, emphasised by the contrast between the raw exposed concrete and the refined joinery and glass details. This is a carefully considered tectonic composition.
Architect: Eldridge Smerin Architects
Structural engineer: Elliott Wood Partnership
Structural glass: Ide Contracting
Sliding glass rooflight: Glazing Vision
Sliding glass door: Fineline Aluminium
Structural glass floor: Compass Glass
Glass desk: Santambrogio
The Properties of Glass
Glass is one of the most misunderstood materials in contemporary architecture.
It is not, as is often described, a “supercooled” fluid. It is a solid, with an amorphous non-crystalline structure. Great care in formulation and the cooling process are required to ensure that it remains non-crystalline in structure.
The most common form is soda lime glass, which is formed from primary com-pounds silica, soda and lime. Intense heat is required to make glass. Silica will fuse at 1,726°C; the addition of soda, lime and cullet reduces the melting point to below 1,600°C.
Cullet is recycled glass and has been used in the float process since it was invented in Merseyside in the 1950s. The addition of 10% of cullet reduces the energy required by 2.5%. Manufacturing glass exclusively from cullet reduces the energy by 60%.
It is the presence of surface imperfections, known as Griffiths flaws, which limit the capacity of the glass. Toughened glass is produced by heating annealed glass to 525-650°C and rapidly cooling or quenching it. This causes the outer surfaces to contract more quickly than the centre. The surface of the glass goes into compression and the core into tension, effectively prestressing the glass. Toughened glass can sustain four to five times the stress of annealed glass.
Glass is mistakenly thought of by many as a non-material, a void in their architecture, but even clear glass has a reflective presence.
Photos by Lyndon Douglas
Michael Stacey is professor of architecture at the University of Nottingham and director of Michael Stacey Architects.
Tectonics lecture series
Nick Eldridge and Gary Elliott will speak at the Making Architecture: Tectonics Lecture Series at the University of Nottingham’s School of the Built Environment on February 12 at 7pm. Details: firstname.lastname@example.org
Original print headline: Let there be daylight