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Highpoint I
North Road, Highgate, London N6, UK
Highpoint I
associated engineer
Sir Ove Arup
date  1934 - 1935
era  Modern  |  category  Building  |  reference  TQ281878
photo  Jane Joyce
Ove Arup's association with Modernist architects started in the early 1930s with Highpoint I, a complex of two seven-storey concrete high-rise blocks containing 64 flats. Highpoint I, together with Highpoint II which was completed a few years later are considered masterpieces of the English Modern Movement. The architect was Berthold Lubetkin, with the architectural group Tecton.
Russian born Lubetkin (1901-1990) established the Tecton group in 1932. He met Ove Arup through the Danish contracting firm Christiani & Nielsen, where Arup worked as an architect, engineer and contractor until 1934.
Highpoint I was designed for Tecton's client Sigmund Gestetner, who was interested in providing housing for his workforce. Gestetner manufactured office equipment and was based in Camden. For Tecton and Arup, it was an ideal set of circumstances an informed client who subscribed to Modernist ideas and had a sympathetic attitude to contemporary culture. Gestetner's willingness to appoint Tecton and Arup added support to their already left-wing political views, which leaned towards socialism and community values. Lubetkin claimed that Highpoint would be "for working class families".
The building of Highpoint was to mark a definitive phase in Arup's career in which he would follow his interest in Modernist architecture. In 1934 he left Christiani & Nielsen for JL Kier & Co, who agreed to support his design work. They appointed him their reinforced concrete technologist. The design of the structure of Highpoint I responds to Modernist architectural demands both functionally and formally.
In plan, Highpoint I consists of two cruciform blocks connected together, sharing a common entrance lobby that contains a winter garden, with, at a lower level, tearooms and a terrace. The 64 flats also share the rooftop terraces, which were designed for community living (a powerful theme derived from the work of Le Corbusier and others).
The structure consists of an in situ reinforced concrete frame with in situ concrete wall panelling and cantilevered balconies. Arup was later critical of the structural design, which he referred to as a "muddy kind of structure". This opinion sprang from the difficulties that existed at the time in the way the structural performance of concrete was analysed and consequently, regulated.
At that time, wall panels were considerd to have little or no intrinsic strength that contributed to the whole, even though reinforced concrete was used. Calculatons for the building had to assume that the frame was carrying in-fill walls. The result was an over-design in reinforcing steel in the columns and beams. The poured concrete had to be overly wet to flow into the shuttering at those points. Similarities can be seen with Owen Williams's Dollis Hill Synagogue (1936-8). Here Williams used the introduction of odd-shaped openings as a reason to define the stress patterns of the walling.
Advanced features in the construction of Highpoint I included the use of movable platforms to construct the shuttering for the wall panels and balconies. This technique was derived by Arup from marine concrete construction and avoided the need for scaffolding. The platforms were reassembled at each new level, as required.
Other innovations in the design include ceiling mounted hot water radiant heating panels, built-in refrigerators with a communal compressor in the basement, two main passenger lifts but separate service elevators for kitchen use, and a system of built-in cabinets and wardrobes with roller shutter fronts.
Highpoint I is a Grade I listed building. Despite the intentions of the those involved, Gestetner's workers never did occupy the building and it's now a firm favourite with the middle classes.
Architect: Berthold Lubetkin, Tecton
Contractor: JL Kier & Co
Research: ND
"Modern Architecture, a Crirical History" by Kenneth Frampton
Thames & Hudson, London 1980

Highpoint I