Lon­don

HOME Magazine NZ - - Contents - Text Giles Reid Pho­tog­ra­phy Mary Gaudin

A for­got­ten en­clave of stu­dios by Pe­ter Beaven has much to of­fer

A for­got­ten project by Pe­ter Beaven in Lon­don still has much to of­fer.

Head­ing down the Arch­way Road in Lon­don’s High­gate, just be­fore the Hornsey Lane Bridge, you glimpse a white jagged-edged build­ing. To a New Zealan­der’s eye, its forms are vaguely fa­mil­iar. Named Tile Kiln Stu­dios, it dates from 1982 and was de­signed by Pe­ter Beaven (1925-2012). It com­prises five one-bed­room stu­dios and one three-bed­room apart­ment – rang­ing in size from 44 to 125 square me­tres. They are ac­cessed from Tile Kiln Lane, a nar­row pedes­trian way that runs from a reser­voir at the top of the hill down to Winch­ester Road at the bot­tom. It is one of only two works Beaven built dur­ing his Lon­don years; the other is a hous­ing de­vel­op­ment in Wed­der­burn Road, Bel­size Park from 1982. Beaven had left for Eng­land in 1976 af­ter clos­ing his prac­tice with Bur­well Hunt, shortly af­ter it had achieved na­tional ac­claim for Queen El­iz­a­beth II Park, the cen­tre­piece of the 1974 Com­mon­wealth Games in Christchurch. He stayed nearly a decade, re­turn­ing to New Zealand in 1985. Given the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect of the 2011 earth­quake on Beaven’s legacy, it’s ironic that two of his bet­ter-pre­served build­ings sit in anonymity on the other side of the world. High­gate is one of North Lon­don’s most ex­pen­sive sub­urbs and home to some of English modernism’s most canon­i­cal ar­chi­tec­ture. Tile Kiln Stu­dios were de­signed as a spec­u­la­tive de­vel­op­ment by Ralph For­est Mackie – though the his­tory of its first oc­cu­pants is un­known. But be­tween 2003 and 2012, it gained lo­cal stand­ing as a hub for artists who put on an an­nual show­case of their work. Now, all have changed hands and some are rented out. Beaven was as­sisted at the time by Mar­shall Cook, who was in­tro­duced to Beaven by Group Ar­chi­tects’ Bill Wil­son. “We worked to­gether on sev­eral projects in­sti­gated by Pe­ter, sig­nif­i­cantly his vil­lages on the Thames,” says Cook now. “He had no money and needed draugh­t­ing horse­power and I had long, paid var­sity hol­i­days. I coop­ered stu­dent slave labour and we worked long hours build­ing mod­els and im­pres­sive port­fo­lios from which Tile Kiln Lane arose.” The plans are su­per-ba­sic, in a good sense: square main rooms with kitchens or bath­rooms as smaller cubes, sim­ply at­tached. The glazed lobby roofs are char­ac­ter­is­tic of Beaven’s in­ven­tive plan­ning (and in­deed Cook’s), bring­ing light in while main­tain­ing pri­vacy. How­ever, the small pro­por­tion of win­dowto-wall on the Arch­way el­e­va­tion, com­bined with the trees run­ning along the edge of the em­bank­ment, make the rear of each in­te­rior quite dark. As was typ­i­cal of Beaven, he worked to a lim­ited bud­get with no loss of hu­mane­ness. Struc­ture and ma­te­ri­als are in­te­grated and built with care. Win­dow and door open­ings are set to half-block mod­ules.

Tim­ber beams and knee braces are dis­played as ob­jects of plain beauty. A stair stringer is re­peated three times, be­com­ing a balustrade of sturdy econ­omy. Thirty-five years on, some in­te­ri­ors are more sym­pa­thet­i­cally fur­nished than oth­ers – but the con­struc­tion stands up well through­out. Tile Kiln Stu­dios made the cover of The Ar­chi­tects’ Jour­nal (May, 1982, the fea­ture in­side was called ‘High­gate down un­der’) and also Con­crete Quar­terly (July-Septem­ber, 1982). Beaven’s voice came through strongly, as did his cir­cum­stances: a mid-ca­reer ar­chi­tect, swapping suc­cess in New Zealand for ob­scu­rity abroad and a gar­ret-like ex­is­tence. “He lives sim­ply, even aus­terely, in a two-bed­room flat, over­look­ing Hamp­stead Heath... his life­style seems al­most sui­ci­dally self-con­fi­dent and is per­haps closer to that of a painter or writer than an ar­chi­tect.” In both jour­nals, the lane was treated as a de­tail: they gave promi­nence to the Arch­way Road side. Shot square-on to cam­era, the Con­crete Quar­terly cover em­pha­sised the el­e­va­tion’s strik­ing play of solid and void. In­side, the mag­a­zine con­veyed more the im­age of a hill fort, with the three-storey apart­ment at the bot­tom of the site its watch tower. The lack of any ar­chi­tec­tural struc­ture to the ex­ter­nal ar­eas was pos­si­bly bud­get driven. Equally, Beaven, an ar­chi­tect noted for this deep con­nec­tion to Christchurch, New Zealand’s gar­den city, didn’t show much con­cern with plant­ing up his build­ings. Rather, they stand proud against the land. His most mem­o­rable works are cliff faces, carved from solid mat­ter. When us­ing con­crete or stone – as op­posed to lightweight tim­ber and plas­ter – Beaven al­ways made fewer but more de­ci­sive cuts, leav­ing it to thick walls and bold mass­ing to an­i­mate his façades with light and shadow. The Arch­way face has lim­ited el­e­ments – pitched roofs, white blocks and black win­dows that are pushed or pulled, raised or low­ered, stretched or ro­tated into a pat­tern with logic that’s sensed but hard to pin down. How­ever, the in­di­vid­u­al­ity of each stu­dio breaks free of any over­all schema, most de­ci­sively down the lane.

Not hav­ing to deal with cars, Beaven could forgo the screen­ing walls, drive­ways and garages of his New Zealand hous­ing schemes and land the front door right on the pave­ment. In so do­ing, the lane el­e­va­tion evokes some­thing of the idyl­lic vil­lage foot­path. El­e­ments are freely bor­rowed from Lon­don’s archetypal streetscape: slate-tile roof­ing, patent glaz­ing, black gut­ters, down­pipes and brightly coloured doors, which are used frankly, with­out pas­tiche or irony. But for all their ap­par­ent ‘English­ness’, the stu­dios are built in a de­ter­minedly New Zealand form of con­struc­tion – white-painted con­crete block. The de­scrip­tion given to both jour­nals un­der­scored the im­por­tance of Beaven find­ing a New Zealand con­trac­tor to build “in the New Zealand man­ner”. There’s an irony here. De­spite fre­quent as­ser­tions that the Christchurch School – of which Beaven was a part – drew on English tra­di­tions, block (or ‘Vi­bra­pac’ as it was mar­keted in New Zealand) was an Amer­i­can im­port. Amer­i­can Louis Kahn made an art of block walls; the English bru­tal­ists did not. In Eng­land, con­crete block is still con­sid­ered an ab­ject ma­te­rial, good for sub-di­vid­ing ground floor com­mer­cial units or fire-rat­ing the back of a ware­house. In New Zealand, by con­trast, block was painted and proudly dis­played as an eco­nomic sub­sti­tute for stone; less a sig­ni­fier of the fu­ture than the past. As Beaven wrote of Che­viot House (1966) in his posthu­mously pub­lished book of 2016 – Pe­ter Beaven Ar­chi­tect – “con­crete block was agreed as the ma­te­rial: 200mm-thick blocks that could have the same whitepainted, tex­tured fin­ish in­side and out. The blocks could then be mod­elled like blocks of real stone, shaped and ma­nip­u­lated to give a dif­fer­ent sculp­ture for each site, and that is prob­a­bly what I have al­ways done ever since.” So there is some­thing in Tile Kiln Stu­dios of an ar­chi­tect med­i­tat­ing on his ex­pe­ri­ences, a trav­eller per­haps not know­ing whether he was go­ing to stay or re­turn, mak­ing an im­age of his cur­rent home in the ma­te­rial and meth­ods of his birth­place. It’s a poignant work, made not long be­fore Beaven stepped back into New Zealand life, a por­trait, both of be­long­ing and of not.

Right So­lid­ity and voids make con­trasts both in­side and out.

Above right and right Carved from solid mat­ter, Beaven’s build­ings stand proud. When us­ing con­crete, he made few but de­ci­sive cuts, leav­ing bold mass to an­i­mate the façade with light and shadow.

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