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IoE Number: 471982
Photographer: N/A
Date Photographed: N/A
Date listed: 22 December 1998
Date of last amendment: 22 December 1998
Grade II

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TL 4557 HILLS ROAD (East side) 667/17/10088 Nos. 1A-37 Highsett and Front retaining wall II Block of 31 flats, six maisonettes and garages front retaining wall. 1958-60 by Eric Lyons for Span Developments Ltd; Z Pick engineer; Leslie Bilsby, builder. Brick cross-wall construction with concrete floors, mostly tile hung. Flat roof over broad cornice. The group set in a courtyard plan mirroring that of the traditional Cambridge colleges, but with openings in the east, west and north-west comer elevations where the upper floors are supported on pilotis. The views through to the rear garden, though now with semi open screens and gates, are an important part of the composition. Three storeys. The north elevation has the maisonettes set over the garages, the other elevations with flats of various sizes; the first and second floor plans the same, and at these levels the east and west elevations mirror each other. Timber and UPVC windows set in continuous bands, an irregular pattern of side casements and pivoted toplights; deeper living room windows with transoms, Mineral board fascias. Open stairwells with some timber louvred screens designed for drying clothes. INTERIORS: not inspected. Front of site with attached walls of dark brick, slit openings within them. now with bars, and original slate nameplate. The first element built in a larger scheme, and the only one constructed as intended in the 1958 brief Eric Lyons and Geoffrey Townshend had worked together in private practice until in 1954 Townshend set himself up as a developer specialising in sensitive infil sites, with Lyons as his architect and Bilsby the builder. At a time when most speculative housing was of poor quality , they established an enviable reputation with a style that was humane, appropriate to its setting and beautifully planted. As important were the tenant management companies they set up, then an innovation and which has seen their schemes maintained in perfect condition. Above all, they established a standard of high quality , well detailed housing at moderate cost which was highly successful and widely influential. Most of their best known work is in London's southern suburbs; Highsett is of special interest for its courtyard plan and careful relationship between the flats and their setting. It is also one of their most asymmetrical and architectural compositions. 'At Highsett Eric Lyons and Span Developments have attempted to show, with a phased development of courts, the continued validity of the 'collegiate' plan for domestic purposes' (The Builder). 'Like Pimlico's Cubitt, or Nash, or Ralph Allen, seeing a situation, (Lyons) both exploited it to his own advantage and solved it to the general advantage. As with those earlier men the client's taste was a given factor of the first importance, not an irrelevancy to be wooed by the architect' (Architectural Review). 'Highsett so far displays all the best Span qualities: a firm outline and clear definition of spaces; well-planned flats ...and a pleasantly relaxed use of materials' (Cambridge New Architecture). Included as one of their best works from their most creative period, and as their best work outside London. Source (Architectural Review: February 1959: 108-120; The Builder: 21 January 1961; 114; Architectural Design; May 1962: 234; Architect and Building News: 28 September 1960: 404-409; Housing Review: November-December 1960: 186-88; Nicholas Taylor: Cambridge New Architecture, second edition: Cambridge: 1964-1965; 78-79).

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