The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Building of the month

December 2009 - Group of three houses at Haddenham, Buckinghamshire

Peter Aldington, 1964-68 (Listed Grade II*), by Alan Powers
In 1964, Peter Aldington was a young architect with one project behind him as an independent practitioner. He was newly married, and looking for somewhere to build his own house in the south-east corner of Buckinghamshire. Peter and Margaret Aldington bought a site at auction. There was an existing permission for three houses on the site, bungalows described by Aldington as ‘sun-bathing hippos’, so he started to design afresh a connected group of single-storey courtyard houses to prove that real modern architecture could make a positive contribution to the historic village. Haddenham has a unique settlement pattern, with smallholding and dwelling sites divided by walls made of ‘wichert’, a local compound of chalky earth and straw. The historic pattern was to add houses and sheds as lean-to structures attached to these walls, one of which runs across the site. Turn End, the first house to be built, remains Peter and Margaret’s home and incorporates the wichert wall within its structure, displaying its texture at the end of two of the rooms.

Realising that his job at the Timber Development Association only just covered the cost of employing builders, and relishing the challenge of some practical building, Peter spent three years working on the site, on and off, with Margaret acting as clerk of works. The houses are solidly built of concrete block with a rough render finish on the outside, and chunky pine roof structures, roofed in concrete tiles. Windows and doors were all specially designed by Peter. The kitchen in each house is in the centre of the plan, with views out into a garden courtyard, and a living room beyond, where the roof rises up and light comes from clerestorey glazing.

The inward-looking courtyard plan was becoming popular in the 1960s, following some examples by Jørn Utzon and by architects involved with New Brutalism and Team 10. Turn End has the rough honesty of materials and construction that were advocated by the Smithsons and their contemporaries, but it also has a lyrical quality achieved by the harmony of house and garden, with old trees preserved and outdoor spaces defined by different areas of planting. The folding doors of the dining area allow the rare effect of being both indoors and outdoors at the same time. Over time, more pieces of land were added to the garden, which is justly famous in its own right.

The group of three houses (Turn End, Middle Turn and The Turn) was featured in many magazines throughout the world, and formed the basis for the Aldington and Craig (later Aldington Craig and Collinge) practice, which was based in the house until moving in 1979 to a converted Victorian bakery on an adjoining site. The houses were listed in the 1990s, and the Aldingtons vested them in the Turn End Trust as an educational resource for the future. Like many modern houses, they had a didactic purpose from the beginning, to show how modern architecture and landscape design could contribute positively to a historic village setting. How rarely, alas, has that lesson been understood and applied. Long before the listing, the houses were included in a conservation area and described as being ‘of architectural importance’. This did not prevent a planning officer from the same district, who was making trouble over a modest scheme by Aldington and Craig in the  Long Crendon conservation area, from declaring that he would never give permission for a scheme of this kind in a conservation area. Building even the most sensitive modern design in a country village has not become any easier in the succeeding decades.

The book Aldington, Craig and Collinge by Alan Powers in the series Twentieth Century Architects was published in December 2009 at £20 and is available to order from The Twentieth Century Society.

Building of the month archive

Look for past Buildings of the Month by entering the name of an individual building or architect or browsing the drop down list.

  • Search

  • Or