Highfield Court 6
Living room and dining area of a Type B flat. Note the extensive use of Aalto-designed furniture by Finmar.

Highfield Court is a medium-size block of modernist flats in Golders Green, north London completed in 1935 by Amnon Vivien Pilichowski (later Vivien Pilley). Pilichowski (1907-1982) was the French-born son of Jewish painter and community leader Leopold Pilichowski of Lodz, Poland. He studied architecture at the Architectural Association school in London, and was a member of Lubetkin’s practice Tecton, with whom he helped design the houses at Genesta Road, London.

Highfield8

The flats at Highfied Court feature in F.R.S. Yorke and Gibberd’s ‘The Modern Flat’, a 1937 survey of the best flats built to date in the UK; surprising then that they are not more well-known. Yorke and Gibberd describe them simply as ‘four-room flats with entrance lounges, for professional and business classes’, but the accompanying photos and diagrams clearly demonstrate Pilichowski’s use of several novel features. Of these the most distinctive is his use of bands of vertical shuttering to imprint board marks on the exterior concrete. Theses marks were achieved by using 4″ boards propped vertically, and were intended to help channel rain water off and avoid weather streaking (a common problem on modernist buildings in the UK). It was also hoped they would help to minimise superficial cracking.

Designed as two blocks connected by a neat glass-enclosed stairway, the flats sit at relative ease amongst the surrounding suburban housing. The original colour scheme was a buff exterior paint which was no doubt intended to lessen the contrast with the brick and render semi-detached neighbours. Wall construction was of the standard British modernist method of 4″ reinforced concrete and 1″ cork lining for insulation. The flats seemed in a reasonable state of repair when we visited but the windows appear to be modern replacements in white uPVC whereas the originals seem to have been dark in colour, perhaps in a dark brown or maroon. When we spoke with one resident she was frankly rather surprised that anyone was interested in the building (clearly not a Modernism enthusiast then) and mainly complained of the condensation and damp, a common problem with 1930’s properties where they are not well ventilated.

Highfield Court 5

Internal space within individual units was maximised by the use of what was then a fairly new type of room plan. There are two main unit types; Type A being the smaller of the two with a combined living room/dining area, and Type B which has a much larger living room (large enough for a grand piano as shown on the plan!) with a separate dining area which could be partitions off using sliding wall panels.

Highfield room plan

Both Type A and Type B plans are arranged around a ‘lounge hall’, a square shaped room large enough to allow for circulation and a small grouping of furniture, presumably intended to act as a drawing room. Structural columns are left visible in the living rooms of Type B. A third layout was presumably employed in the penthouse units which are visible from the ground and identified by their circular windows. Sun terraces were originally available for tenants to use on the roof.

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Hopefully this glass mural is still present! Artist unknown.

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It is tempting to speculate whether the Bauhaus master László Moholy-Nagy visited Highfield Court, or indeed knew Pilichowski professionally, since Moholy-Nagy lived nearby in Golders Green during 1936/37 before relocating to the USA.

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