Case Study Threemerrist Wood

Andrew Saint—Richard Norman Shaw, 1976, pp.112113.

Merrist Wood is an English Victorian house, designed by Richard Norman Shaw, and built at Worplesdon in Surrey, in the mid-1870s.

I shall not look at every aspect of this house, nor even at the house as it was built, but at an early version of the floor plan of the house, for a comparison can be made between this and the floor plan of the Schminke House (Case Study Two) which illustrates some crucial differences between nineteenth-century and twentieth-century 'Modern' organisation of space.

Merrist Wood was built in the Old English style for Charles Peyto Shrubb, who would have had a body of servants.

In designing it Shaw thought primarily in terms of load-bearing walls; as distinct from the 'Dom-Ino' idea which was available to Scharoun fifty years later. Shaw did not have central heating available as an option.

The plan of the house as built clearly shows the consequences of these conditions. The rooms are mostly cellular. The hall, which is at an angle to the rest of the plan, is a double-height space, with a tall bay window looking down a slope into the garden and across the landscape. All internal space is compartmentalised into these cells, and apart from at the porch to the main entrance there is, on this ground floor, very little exploration of the zone between inside and outside.

A small courtyard allows light into the centre of what would otherwise be a deep and dark plan.

Windows are generally mullioned holes-in-walls. The nearest Shaw comes to creating a glass wall is the large bay window in the hall.

Hall Wood Plan

The plan of a previous version of this house is additionally interesting because it shows the whole of the front portion of the house set at an angle. It is this version that can be compared with the plan of Scharo-un's Schminke House. (This is not to suggest that there is a direct historical connection between the two designs; though Merrist Wood was mentioned in Hermann Mutthesius's book Das Englische Haus, 1904, which publicised in Germany the virtues of late nineteenth-century English house design, of which Sch-aroun would have been aware.)

In both plans the servants' accommodation is set to the left, with its own entrance, and separated from the living spaces by the main stair to the upper floors and the ablutions. In Merrist Wood the servants' accommodation is larger, occupying at least fifty per cent of the ground floor area.

The most notable comparison between the two plans however is the juxtaposition of two grains set at an angle to each other. In the Scharoun plan the angle between the two main sections of the house is about 26 degrees; in the Shaw plan about 29 degrees. Rather like the Schindler plan (The Falk Apartments, 1943) discussed in the chapter on Elements Doing More Than One Thing, Shaw manages to condense all the difficulties which might arise from using two orthogonal grids at an angle to each other, into an odd-shaped servants' stairwell, the non-rectangular light courtyard, and a small link between the hall and the drawing room.

Schminke House Sharoun

The orientation of the Shaw plan, with the sun and the view in the same direction, is approximately the opposite of that of the Scharoun plan.

Though both used two orthogonal grains or grids as the bases of their plans, the distinct difference between the ways in which these were used is that whereas Scharoun overlaid them, Shaw kept them

separate. Partly, if not mainly, this difference is a consequence of the greater planning freedom allowed to Scharoun by the frame structure, and of the greater flexibility in lines of sight allowed by the glass wall. Shaw, by contrast, working fifty or so years earlier, was restricted to using the cell, window, and load-bearing wall.

The comparison between these two plans illustrates a great deal about the difference between Modern and Victorian space planning. Both houses had similar though not identical briefs. Their site conditions were similar, even though the orientation was opposite. The places that the two architects had to identify were more or less the same: servant accommodation; living space; morning space; eating space. Both architects were concerned about light and views.

The differences between the ways in which they planned their houses were influenced by differences in the technologies available—frame structure versus load-bearing masonry; central heating versus hearth; glass wall versus hole-in-wall win-dow—and by a more adventurous attitude (on the part of Scharoun) to the use of the various kinds of geometry.

This is not to suggest that Shaw was always content to accept the constraints of load bearing masonry structure on his organisation of space. Here is

the ground floor of a house he designed for Kate Greenaw-ay, the Victorian children's author.

On this floor, and the floor above, the house is fairly conventional in its structural layout.

But on the top floor, where he wanted to provide his client with a studio lit from the northeast, Shaw allowed his space planning to contradict the structural geometry of the lower floors.

On the right is part of the ground floor plan of an unbuilt house designed for F.W.Fison. Linking the main entrance with the grand hall of the house there is a structural wall (double-hatched in the drawing) which along its length changes its character a number of times. It starts as a barrier between the entrance passage and the butler's room—an interface between the staff quarters and the hallway; then it crosses the stair hall, adding to the sculptured quality of that space; after becoming an orthodox wall with two mullioned windows, and then an arch-way to a rectangular bay window, it terminates as an external buttress.

And at Dawpool (1882, below) Shaw repeatedly allowed 'bubbles' of space to penetrate the structural walls of the rooms, breaking their rectangles, and inhabiting the zone between inside and out.

Lip3q21quite Even Though Architecture

Even though diagonally set against the orthogonal grain established on the floors below, this studio remained largely a cell, closely bounded by its own four walls.

In other houses, however, Shaw explored how the structural authority of the load-bearing wall might be breached to allow a more flexible moulding of space.

Analysing Architecture
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