Dartington, Devon

Offers invited in region of £2,500 pcm / £600 pw

High Cross House was designed by the prominent Modernist architect William Lescaze (1896-1969). Despite doing much work at Dartington Hall in Devon, he was actually based in New York and is best known as the architect of what is widely considered to be the first skyscraper to be designed in the Modern style – the PFSF building in Philadelphia (1931-32).

Lescaze was born in Geneva and studied in Zurich under Karl Moser, one of the key figures in the birth of the Modern Movement. He went on to work for a short period in Paris before moving to New York in 1925. America, he recognised, was a place of opportunity where architects could be more ambitious in the scale of their projects than in Europe. When he arrived, American clients were not quite ready for the sort of pared-down Modernism that had been developed in Europe and as such Lescaze initially worked in a more eclectic manner. In 1928, however, he exhibited some drawings of buildings in the stark style for which he became known that drew the attention of the American architect George Howe. The following year the pair teamed up to form Howe and Lescaze, with the latter doing the bulk of the design work, which become a pioneering practice that introduced what was then called the "International Style" to America.

Lescaze's 1931 design for the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society Building is considered the firm's greatest acheivement. Today in use as a hotel, it is a spare, yet surprisingly elegant, skyscraper that predated the likes of Mies van der Rohe's Seagram Building by a good 25 years.

It was in New York that Lescaze met W. B. Curry, who would go on to be appointed headmaster of the progressive Dartington Hall School. On arrival at the school, Curry persuaded the owners, Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst, to scrap the existing plans (in the Arts & Crafts style) they had for the headmaster's house and employ Lescaze instead. It was his view that a progressive school should have a progressive architect, and the Elmhirsts agreed.

Such was the success of High Cross House that the Elmhirsts went on to commission a number of buildings from Lescaze, many of which still stand on the Dartington Hall estate.

Some contemporary comments on High Cross House:

"Probably the most extreme instance in England of the functional type of house associated with the name of Le Corbusier." Christopher Hussey, Country Life, 1933

"It is quite the most beautiful dwelling I have ever been in... at once I was filled with a desire to live and work in it... I was soothed by its lovely details of line and colour and views." Jean Sutcliffe, 1932

"Did I tell you that we are building one very modern house here? It was designed in New York by Mr. Curry's friend Lescaze, and it is built up in planes on the slope of a hill, and from every angle I find it clean, stark and beautiful… I wonder whether in a few years we shall regard every other type of architecture stuffy and suffocating, and artificial". Letter from Dorothy Elmhirst, 1933

"To me, serenity, clarity and openness are its distinguishing features." W. B. Curry, 1933

In 1994-5, John Winter and Associates restored High Cross House, a project that was the subject of a large article in The Architects' Journal (9 February 1995). The writer, Andrew Mead, commented that "John Winter and Associates' recent restoration… has brought this early Modernist dwelling back to life".

Please note that all areas, measurements and distances given in these particulars are approximate and rounded. The text, photographs and floor plans are for general guidance only. The Modern House has not tested any services, appliances or specific fittings — prospective purchasers are advised to inspect the property themselves. All fixtures, fittings and furniture not specifically itemised within these particulars are deemed removable by the vendor.

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Dartington, Devon

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