modern architecture london
modern architecture london

Highgate New Town - stage 1

Peter Tabori / Camden Architects Department, 1972-78
Housing | Dartmouth Park Hill, N19

Photos taken September 2008.

Peter Tábori was born in Hungary in 1942 and studied at the Regent Street Polytechnic. When he was a student, he asked the local authority for a diploma project and was given the brief for Highgate New Town. After working for Ernö Goldfinger and Denys Lasdun, Tábori joined Camden Architects Department - Sydney Cook had been so impressed by Tábori's student work that he was employed to develop it into the final scheme.

The site is located on Dartmouth Park Hill and is bordered to the West by Highgate Cemetery. In common with other Camden housing developments of this time, the design is based on a number of principles:

  • The housing is high-density, but low rise. The terraces are three or four stories high but the way that they are set into the sloping site means that you can rarely see all four levels.
  • All the dwellings have their own front door reached via staircases and bridges from the pedestrian street level.
  • Pedestrian and vehicle routes are separated.

The main motif of the building is the stepped back terraces, similar to the Brunswick Centre and Alexandra Road and likely influenced by the Seidlung Halen housing by Atelier 5 in Switzerland. The party walls and the vertical fins separating the terraces are composed of large, pre-cast concrete panels with the concrete floor slabs being cast in-situ. Like the other schemes with similar forms, the stepped back design lessens the impact of the height of the building for pedestrians at ground level and helps to let more light into the interiors. At Highgate New Town each dwelling has at least one south-facing terrace or courtyard. Although the external appearance of the buildings is mostly uniform, there are a number of different types of dwelling including single story 1 bedroom flats, 2 storey 2 bedroom maisonettes and 3 story houses. There are 273 homes in total.

Highgate New Town expresses a different relationship to the ground compared to more conventional housing. The 'gound' is remade as a complex surface, partly because of the sloping site, but mainly because the maniplulation of different levels is an important part of the design. Pedestrian and vehicle routes are separated - pedestrian only walkways are raised to allow for considerable car parking below as well as services like bin storage and heating systems. As at Alexandra Road, access to the dwellings is via a range of external staircases so each home has it's own front door leading to the street. This means there is no need for semi public areas like lifts, internal corridors or external access walkways. The maxium walk up is two stories. Some of the dwellings are actually partly below the level of the pedestian walkway.

Planting is also an important part of the design, helping to distinguish the pedestrian streets and continuing the greenery from the cemetery.

The interiors at Highgate New Town share many of the features of other Camden estates. The living spaces are generally open plan, but can be divided by sliding partitions. In dwellings of more than 1 floor, the bedrooms tend to be below the living areas. As there are no conventional private gardens and all floors have balconies, living spaces are placed at the top to receive more light.

2 bedroom maisonette

Highgate New Town

The estate seems to have faired well over the years - the photos on this page were taken in September 2008 after a comprehensive refurbishment which seems to have been carried out with a great deal of sensitivity to the original design.

The car park is currently closed and unused - because it is a closed off, hidden space it became the site for various types of anti-social behaviour. However, the car park was conceived with the understanding that it would be staffed by an attendant at all times. Attendants were presumably dispensed with at some point to cut costs. It seems a shame that that this huge space is left empty when London streets are permanently choked with parked cars.

Contruction began on the estate in 1972 with a planned completion date of 1974. A number of problems, including the original contractor going into liquidation leaving the building unfinished, meant that the development wasn't completed until 1979, with costs nearly four times the original estimate. Because of these problems, Camden decided not to continue with Tábori's design for stage 2 on the triangular site south of Raydon Street. This scheme would have provided a bridge over Raydon Street connecting stage 1 to a further 6 terraces with shops, library and community centre.

For sources see introduction page.