Architect: Philip Dowson
Nr. Long Melford, Suffolk
Long Wall, situated in the Suffolk countryside, is widely considered to be one of the finest post-war houses in Britain. A striking single-storey structure set in extensive gardens, the house was designed by Sir Philip Dowson (of Arup Associates) and completed in 1963.
Long Wall (one of the few post-war houses to have given a Grade II listing) was meticulously refurbished by architect Hugh Pilkington in 1995. Minor changes were also made to give the house three bedrooms rather than two, as originally conceived. The house takes its name from the long brick wall that runs through it and extends to the back and the front, providing privacy and shelter. It is the large Reception Room / Kitchen, however, that provides the focal point of the building. An extensively glazed area that, in the words of Dowson, “establishes a relationship between the hearth and the horizon”, this open-plan space leads onto a brick terrace. The house sits in almost 2 acres of secluded gardens and has a swimming pool.
Long Wall is situated down an unmade track approximately two miles from the historic Suffolk village of Long Melford. The larger market town of Sudbury, which offers numerous shopping and dining opportunities, is a short drive away. The house is approximately 60 miles from central London (1½ – 2 hours’ drive). Sudbury has a train station with typical journey times of 1¼ hours to London Liverpool Street (with one change).
Please note that all areas, measurements and distances given in these particulars are approximate and rounded. The text, photographs and floor plans are for general guidance only. The Modern House has not tested any services, appliances or specific fittings — prospective purchasers are advised to inspect the property themselves. All fixtures, fittings and furniture not specifically itemised within these particulars are deemed removable by the vendor.
In his celebrated book Modern House of the World (1964), Sherban Cantacuzino wrote that Long Wall “is of considerable importance… [it is] one of the few [houses] built in England since the war which stands comparison with the best foreign examples.” Illustrated alongside such iconic residences as Philip Johnson’s Glass House, Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House and Alvar Aalto’s Villa Mairea, Long Wall is described, somewhat idiosyncratically, as “quietly making a remarkable contribution to architecture in a country where the formal values of a three-dimensional art have consistently been neglected in favour of literary qualities.”
Long Wall was commissioned in 1962 as a weekend residence for Mr and Mrs Williams, who were neighbours of Dowson’s in west London. In later years, Mrs Williams permanently occupied the house and it was from her that the current owners purchased the property in 1992. Dowson designed the house with the assistance of Peter Foggo (who is thought to be responsible the detailing) and Max Fordham (whose primary contribution was the heating system). Both Foggo and Fordham went on to become very successful in their own right (see www.maxfordham.com), but it was with their work at Long Wall where the pair began to make a name for themselves.
Dowson’s concept for the design of Long Wall was largely inspired by the landscape. Responding to the gently rolling land, and more importantly the extensive skies, Dowson created a low-lying house that made much use of glass. The plan of the house, Dowson once explained, “spirals out from the core of the building, the hearth, into wider uses within the building and eventually out into the landscape”. The architectural historian Charles McKean points out that “in the mingling of indoor and outdoor spaces, the house has some neat tricks obviously derived from Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion.” McKean further describes Long Wall as a “very elegant… and restful house”.
Elain Harwood of English Heritage also sees similarities between Long Wall and the Barcelona Pavilion:
“Three sides of the perimeter of the house are glazed, giving an open pavilion reminiscent of Mies, while the materials and the deep overhanging eaves suggest Frank Lloyd Wright. But for the strong, sheltering eaves the house would appear diminutive in the big Suffolk landscape that surrounds it… The building is a lightweight timber structure with long beams carried on timber posts, which rest on a low brick wall [the wall that gives the house its name].”
In her book New Houses (1964), Penelope Whiting asserts that:
“The simplicity of the structure has given the house its character: all the details are straightforward and convincing, as if there were no other way of doing them… it makes the house satisfying in appearance.”
The renovation of Long Wall in 1995 was done under the guidance of Hugh Pilkington, an architect recommended to the current owners by Philip Dowson. Pilkington has written a thorough account of the programme of work that he undertook in an article entitled Conservation, Restoration and Addition, published in the journal of the Twentieth Century Society. “I felt it appropriate that new work was undertaken using existing details,” Pilkington writes. “Unsightly later additions to the house were removed.” Pilkington went to great lengths (with considerable cost) to maintain the spirit and materials of the original design, whilst also making the house suitable for 21st-century occupation.
Sir Philip Dowson is one of Britain’s most important Modern architects. Educated at Gresham’s School, Norfolk, he spent a year reading Mathematics at University College, Oxford, before joining the Royal Navy during the Second World War. He returned to study Art History at Clare College, Cambridge, from 1947 to 1950, and then trained at the Architectural Association. During the 1950s he worked with the engineer Sir Ove Arup. In 1963, he became a founding partner, and later chief architect, of the hugely influential Arup Associates, a collaborative team of architects, engineers and quantity surveyors. Arup developed a distinctive architecture in which the basis of design was rational, scientific function and construction technique taking consideration of the character of the materials. Dowson has won numerous prestigious awards, and was President of the Royal Academy between 1993 and 1999.