In this house, the division of space into a series of top-lit zones, each stepped one above the other to make the best of the views, is a refinement of ideas already explored in previous housing schemes, as is the extension of the load-bearing brick cross walls to give external privacy. What is new is the internal flexibility inherent in the deep plan, with zones enlarged or reduced by means of sliding panels, and a structural system which allowed the house to be extended into the landscape. The house, like others of its period, combines traditional materials with factory-made components. It featured in the Stanley Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange.

Skybreak House offered a highly innovative model of flexible living. The client had asked for a house that could be adapted to a variety of uses, for both family and social occasions, and which could be extended easily as required. The eastern zone contains closed rooms for sleeping, washing and utility, while the non-structural walls allow for future change. The western zone is a fluid open space, a domestic concourse in three terraced stages. Two flights of three spreading steps each connect the stages. The upper two stages are square and the lowest, leading through sliding windows to the patio and garden, a double square. These were designated for study, dining and living respectively. At the far end of the lowest stage, a piano was placed before the window, so that the upper two terraces, with their balcony rails, assume the role of tiers in a theatre. A low wall separates the kitchen from the conservatory behind, which is reached by three narrow steps. With access in four directions to playroom, dining room, conservatory and the outside, through a utility room, and with oblique views to study and living rooms, the kitchen is not just the physical centre of the house but also its principal vantage-point.

Skybreak presents implications of thorough flexibility that would lead rapidly away from wet-build methods and heavy structures towards prefabrication, light materials and new technologies. Interesting and noteworthy here is that such innovations were prompted less in the pursuit of maximised production of unit modules, than by a desire to refine and tune the quality and controllability of individual environments.

Sketches + Drawings

Development

Quotes

Richard Einzig

“It is an aesthetic experience to progress down through the main space of the house from platform to platform, through alternating areas of brightness, from the top glazing, and shade, always with the view to the green countryside opening up as one approaches the lowest level”

classic modern Houses in Europe, 1981

Norman Foster

“One of the themes that weaves itself between our projects over the years is the handling of natural light: how it might inform, diffuse and add another dimension to an interior, whether it’s a domestic interior, an airport, a building you work in, or a gallery where you look at works of art”

inaugural Academy Architecture lecture, Royal Academy, London, 15 June 1991.

Brian Hatton

“Skybreak gave rise to radical experiments and initiated thoughts on interior space that would be explored with increasing vigour in Foster’s later work.”

Norman Foster

“The Skybreak house was really an attempt to squeeze the maximum house from the minimum resources, and it is characterised by an interest and a belief in the potential and joy of natural light – particularly natural top light.”

Arthur Batchelor lecture at UAE, Norwich, 7 February 1978

Brian Hatton

“While the low, single-storey profile and sloping, glazed end-walls might be considered unusual in its suburban setting, the real innovations at Skybreak are found on the inside. Here is a conception of living based not only on an open plan but also on a level if flexibility that facilitates change.”

Bryan Appleyeard

“Skybreak achieved a rather non-architectural fame in that its interior was used for some of the scenes of ultra-violence in the film A Clockwork Orange. But Stanley Kubrick, the director, was not interested in the outside so he cheated by implying that the house had a different, traditional exterior.”

Richard Rogers, 1986

Facts + Figures

  • Appointment: 1965
  • Completion: 1966
  • Area: 260m²