Architect: Berthold Lubetkin
The Lubetkin Penthouse, Highpoint IISOLD
North Hill, London N6
Designed by the esteemed Modernist architect Berthold Lubetkin for his own use, this is an extraordinary two-bedroom penthouse of significant architectural merit. At the time of its completion in 1938, the apartment was considered to be the highest in London due to its elevated position on North Hill in Highgate, and it has unparalleled panoramic views across London from extensive roof terraces.
The Penthouse has direct lift access from the building’s distinctive lobby. Entrance is to a tiled cloakroom with a fixed rough-sewn bench positioned opposite a large window that is shuttered with sand-blasted pine louvres. A concealed door in the wood-panelled wall opens to a bathroom / laundry room.
The reveal of the main space is extraordinary, a wonderfully proportioned room almost 40 feet in length, flanked on two sides by long stretches of fully retractable glazing and capped by a striking barrel-vaulted ceiling.
The space, although open in plan, is loosely sub-divided to create living, seating and dining areas. A more intimate snug, positioned under a lower area of the ceiling, centres around a boardmarked concrete fireplace. A built-in bench, cut from a single slab of travertine, creates a seat beneath the south-facing stretch of windows that has access to a sheltered terrace. Some original pieces of furniture that were created by Lubetkin and his wife specifically for the apartment, have been preserved. Carpet sections, that denote the seating area, are laced together with coloured cord, whilst coloured Victorian theatre prints from Pollocks still decorate the wall at the entrance to the kitchen.
The two bedrooms, and a bathroom, are situated at the eastern end of the apartment, one of which has direct access to the largest of the private terraces.
Highpoint was built in two phases between 1935 and 1938, and represents one of the best examples of early International Style in London. Highpoint II contains just 12 duplexes, which were designed to be more luxurious than the flats in neighbouring Highpoint I.
Highpoint has been listed at Grade I by English Heritage in recognition of its extraordinary architectural quality. The building is very well maintained, and has a porter, lift access, glorious communal gardens, residents’ tennis courts and a heated outdoor swimming pool, as well as a fabulous entrance hall. This particular apartment has a garage en-bloc, which is available by separate negotiation. There is off-street parking for residents on a first-come first-served basis.
Highpoint is conveniently located within a short walk of both Highgate Village – with its shops, cafés and restaurants – and Highgate underground station (Northern Line). The open spaces of Hampstead Heath and Waterlow Park are also within close proximity.
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.
Berthold Lubetkin is among the most important figures of the Modern Movement in Britain. Born in Georgia in 1901, he studied in Berlin and Paris, before moving to London in 1931. The following year he founded the famous Tecton practice with the Architectural Association graduates Anthony Chitty, Lindsay Drake, Michael Dugdale, Valentine Harding, Godfrey Samuel and Francis Skinner.
Lubetkin and Tecton’s buildings are among the most iconic of the period, and include the penguin pool at London Zoo (designed in conjunction with the engineer Ove Arup) and Finsbury Health Centre.
The Highpoint apartments, so-called because of their location on an elevated site, are one of the best examples of early International Style architecture in London. They were built in two phases: Highpoint I in 1935 and Highpoint II in 1938. Local opposition from the Highgate Preservation Committee ensured that Highpoint II was much smaller than its predecessor. It was originally intended to have 57 flats, but in the end contained only 12. This reduction, coupled with the spiralling cost, resulted in a strategy to design luxury apartments instead of flats.
Externally, Highpoint II has a dark-brick façade that contrasts with the gleaming white render of Highpoint I. The striking canopy at the entrance to Highpoint II garnered much debate from the public and critics alike. The playful use of the caryatid pillars drew particular interest, reportedly cast, according to Lubetkin, for about £40 from a baffled but cooperative Curator of Antiques at the British Museum. There seemed to be little structural necessity in supporting the heavily cantilevered canopy, instead they were considered as a bit of a whimsy.
The communal gardens, the acreage of which was significantly increased in size by the addition of Highpoint II, was seen to be an integral part of the Corbusian urban proposition that the scheme represents: namely, the replacement of the corridor street with ‘Plantonic space’.
Lubetkin even designed himself the penthouse, where he lived until 1955. It had extraordinary views across London from the top of what was the highest building in the city at the time. In the Penthouse, the Corbusian influence is again felt, notably in the dramatic vaulted ceiling and a similarly personal mix of genres and objets trouvés. As John Allan describes in his book ‘Berthold Lubetkin: Architecture and the Tradition of Progress’:
“Lubetkin’s flat is a proud statement of his own emancipation, the story of a country boy made good, the Georgian who made it to Paris. The Penthouse is indeed an apt reflection of Lubetkin’s double artistic personality, fusing an absolute grasp of Beaux Arts fundamentals with his roving maverick taste for the culturally iconic.”
Of the dramatic effect of the Penthouse’s vaulted ceiling, John Allan goes on to say:
“In reality the centering effect of the parabolic vault is all-persuasive, its perfectly square outline defining the tranche of space below. This mode of formalising a plan from the ceiling down rather than from the walls up, has an obvious parallel in Soane’s celebrated breakfast rooms at Pitshanger and Lincoln’s Inn Fields. But those little gems are too small, or their surrounding contexts too large and spatially diverse, for them to exert the dominance of Lubetkin’s serene carapace. All other spaces and functions are there to serve it…”
The furniture and effects within were pieces of soft sculpture, that gave a sense of Lubetkin’s personal identity. The pair of chairs, still present in the apartment today, were designed by Lubetkin and Margaret, made from hand-chosen lengths of Norwegian yew and cow hide from Argentina.
Berthold Lubetkin (1901-1990) was one of the most important figures of the Modern Movement. Born in Georgia in 1901, he studied in Berlin and Paris, before moving to London in 1931. The following year he founded the famous Tecton practice with the Architectural Association graduates Anthony Chitty, Lindsay Drake, Michael Dugdale, Valentine Harding, Godfrey Samuel and Francis Skinner.
Amongst Tecton’s first commissions, led by Lubetkin, were the iconic penguin pool and gorilla house for London Zoo – both unique early examples of Modernism in the UK. Lubetkin and Tecton’s buildings went on to become some of the most iconic of the period, and include private houses in Sydenham, one of the UK’s only Modernist terraces in Plumstead, south London, Finsbury Health Centre and the Highpoint apartments in Highgate. The latter is described by the architectural historian Alan Powers as “perhaps the single most celebrated Modernist building of the 1930s in London.”
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