Alan Higgs

Kitchen skylight, December 2017.

My  terraced house has been transformed by an Australian friend, Alan Higgs. Fortunately he is an acclaimed architect not a chef as I don’t fancy living in a gingerbread house.

He designed my study and created a stylish guest bathroom but his master stroke was inserting a flat, floating glass skylight high up along the side return in the kitchen. I came to appreciate the thought that goes into his projects. Never did he make an initial proposal that we ran with. There were multiple meetings to revise our plans to fuse his artistic sensibilities with my needs. We never had to compromise; he always found a solution.

I did not want decking in the small north facing back garden; it would get slimy, slippery and rot. He did not want a step down to the garden, necessary to stop the kitchen flooding. Eureka, he put the paving slabs on stilts with no mortar so that rainwater can drain away and the floor level of kitchen and garden remain the same. I maintained that a heated airing cupboard is a necessity. He proposed turning a bedroom into a walk-in airing cupboard which I considered overdoing it in the ac department. He then realised that the space behind the study door was perfect for an ac.

Do not think that Alan Higgs Architects spends its time doing paltry projects like mine. A recent example of Alan’s work is the entrance hall for City & Guilds of London Art School. It is interesting to see how he thought through this project over its ten year gestation.

Our first work for the art school in 2007 was an appraisal of its options – ’do we stay or do we go?’ Sketchy thinking even then envisaged a new heart at the centre of the site, a positive, defined, multi-purpose space formed from a leftover alley.
First designs, made before we got to know the art school, were generic; they could have been the entrance to an office or gallery. These thoughts were parked for seven years while we executed phase one of the masterplan. Over this time, we became immersed in the history and the teaching ethos of the client, and its collective memory, and this led to a much more specific solution.
The art school’s origins are in the years after the Great Exhibition. It was founded as part of a push to bring higher standards of art and design to manufacturing. This period of English architecture is rich in the efficient and purposeful structures of the Victorian Age – covered markets, factories, arcades, railway stations. Our thinking took its cue from these steel and glass forms and we found that they suited the need for a space to be both a showcase and a resilient environment. The dark steel colour, concrete floor and unheated environment all feel right for this place of creativity and making.
Our new roof stops short of contact with the listed buildings. The resultant gap means that fresh air is abundant and rain is still allowed to be in contact with the venerable brickwork.

Alan Higgs, founder, Alan Higgs Architects, published in The Architects’ Journal.

City & Guilds entrance by AHA

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