The Ahm House is a modern house designed by the Danish architect Jørn Utzon, best known for his world-famous design of the Sydney Opera House, for the structural engineer Povl Ahm, a partner of Ove Arup. It was built between the years 1961 and 1963 in Harpenden in Hertfordshire, England.
The house has been listed as Grade II on the National Heritage List for England since July 1998. Because of this, Grade-II listed houses are recognized as one of the most significant modern houses in England. Therefore, in their official listed building report, Historic England described the house as “a distinguished and beautifully detailed modern house, in the idiom of an important architect who built relatively little.” Likewise, the majority of society criticized this house.
To exemplify, Nikolaus Pevsner, a German-British art and architectural historian, described the Ahm House as ”an interesting modern house… [that] makes no concessions to the outsider nor the genteel facadism of its neighbours. All that one sees from the road is a yawning carport with a rhythm of projecting concrete beam-ends above, and a tall blank yellow brick wall on the right” in the Hertfordshire edition of his Buildings of England series.
Hugh Pearman, a London-based architectural writer, editor, and consultant, described the Ahm House as ”probably the best modern house in the world” in an article in The Sunday Times.
The Ahm House has been given a new sense with a renovation completed in 2018 sensitively by the architecture studio Coppin Dockray. Coppin Dockray’s work included the original drawings by Jørn Utzon besides structurally sound and careful repairs carried out carefully. The renovation of the Ahm House won a Wallpaper* Design Award for Best Remastered because of this approach in 2019. Thus it has become much admired by society, in particular engineers and architects.
Undoubtedly, the house is still admirable today. Even it inspires present-day modernist houses. Let’s now analyze which design decisions were taken by Utzon in the Ahm House.
Architectural Design Decisions
Jørn Utzon uses combination forms inspired by nature and different cultures in designs generally. Utzon’s designs are always way ahead of their time and equipped with innovative approaches. It is possible to observe this in the Ahm House. The house is the only project completed in the UK by Utzon, and it is directly definable as a house built by Utzon because he uses many of the same elements in this house as in her first villa. Even the organization between the living spaces resembles his other works.
Generally speaking, the house has just one story above ground in a low-slope area. Its ground level rises with steps on the landscape softly. The house’s facade on one side opens neighbouring buildings. On the other hand, the house’s facade opens to the back garden mostly. The linear-shaped house used brick, concrete, wood, and glass materials look quite mysterious from the street. Utzon must have wanted to create a buffer between the public and private region.
Its mysterious atmosphere gives its place to an attractive entrance when entered into the house. The facade is compatible with the concept visually because of using large walls of glazing and various materials in the interior. Visitors initially encounter a large entrance hall then, passed into the spacious living room via a long low porch that opens into it. Wide and shallow steps take you to the living room, work area, and kitchen, respectively.
The principle for the flow of space within the house is read clearly in the Ahm House. Jørn Utzon achieved the aim of ”bringing the outside in” desired by almost all modern architects, by using this principle. Thus the Ahm House blends into the landscape as establishing a close relationship with its natural atmosphere.
Coppin Dockray considered that the house’s living room was the most important thing for the house’s interior design. Therefore, Coppin Dockray paid attention to the decoration of the living room and considered the living room as a combination of large and small spaces like Utzon’s design decisions. According to this decision, Coppin Dockray defined two spaces. These were the larger space with a warm-comfortable seating area around the fireplace and the smaller space with rising two steps and overlooking the garden.
As can be seen in the architectural plan, the house’s bedrooms are located towards the western end, while the living rooms are towards the eastern end. Ulrik Plesner also added additional bedrooms to the northwest corner of the garden. Coppin Dockray changed this function as part of the project. Today it is used as a playroom for the family’s children. The rest of the project involves rethinking the lighting elements throughout the building. Several classic mid-century designs were provided, like Poul Henningsen’s PH5 pendant light for this project.
Coppin Dockray mostly focused on the house’s materials design because the house was in good condition. Therefore, the Ahm House’s materials character is quite noticeable in interiors. All materials are natural and chosen to be long-lasting deliberately in the interiors. Two things took into account the choice of materials. These were the historical context of the house and its Danish roots. Therefore, the design team created some specific pieces of furniture for the house: a green marble, walnut coffee table, a storage unit made from Oregon pine and black linoleum, etc.
The architects achieved harmony with architecture and nature by making detailed plans. Thanks to this, the house has been awarded many times. This situation should be proud of the architecture studio Coppin Dockray who undertook the renovation of the Ahm House, and the architect Jørn Utzon. Today the house serves as a family home again, functionally. Its welcoming atmosphere sincerely meets us like Utzon’s other works.
Latham, L. In a Small English Town, a Notable Modern House.
The New York Times. [online] Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/14/realestate/in-a-small-english-town-a-notable-modern-house.html [Accessed 5 Aug. 2021].
England, H. 44 West Common Way. National Heritage List for England. [online] Available at: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1375673 [Accessed 5 Aug. 2021].
Dezeen. (2019). Coppin Dockray mixes contemporary and mid-century in renovation of Jørn Utzon’s Ahm House. [online] Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2019/02/05/ahm-house-jorn-utzon-modernist-midcentury-renovation/ [Accessed 5 Aug. 2021].