Initial Project Manifesto – House within a house


The project begins from the Grade II* listed building, Old Battersea House, one of Battersea’s oldest properties (English Heritage, 2013, p. 47). The house caught the attention of this project because of its interesting historical background. In fact, this property has seen very diverse tenants through the course of time: from Mr. and Mrs Stirling who used the house as an ‘artist centre’ to show her neighbourhood the art collection from her sister, Evelyn De Morgan, and brother-in-law, William De Morgan, to Malcom Forbes, American billionaire and founder of Forbes magazine, also owner of one of London’s greatest collection of Victorian art.

Starting from the analysis of the house, it becomes clear how many historical layers are not visible to the public anymore. Indeed, as today’s use of the property is private (currently on sale for £12million), many of its features, which go beyond the architectural heritage, seem to be forgotten, such as its inhabitants and collections. It is here that this scheme will make its entrance.

The objective of this project, in fact, will be to ‘bring back to life’ three of the main layers of the house: its tenants, art’s collections and spatial use. How do they intersect? What do they share? How do the characters lived the spaces? And, what use did they do of their art collections? Through overlapping these aspects of the house, one can get a sense of the tenant’s time frame in which he/she inhabit the house, and therefore beginning to articulate what will be the scheme’s concept: a house within a house.

How can the community relive and experience Old Battersea House from the eye of its previous tenants? 


For the crit, I proposed an interactive model, which allowed to view the ground floor plan of Old Battersea House when inhabited by its different tenants: Mrs. Stirling (1931 – 1965) and Malcom Forbes (1971 – 2011). Each tenant’s house layout occupied a drawer, and each drawer focused on layering three main aspects: tenant / spatial use / art’s collection.


Concept drawing model
Tenants’ drawers
Interactive model – open each drawer and discover what is inside!


The idea of this interactive model is to present the ground floor plan by showing the three aspects stated above. The first drawer represents the house when inhabited by Mr and Mrs Stirling. They moved into the property in 1931 saving it to be demolished by the Council, and making it home of Mrs. Stirling’s sister, Evelyn De Morgan, and her brother-in-law, William De Morgan. Mrs Stirling lived in Old Battersea House for over 30 years. She was an eccentric personality, who transformed the house in a sort of ‘open house’; anyone could knock on the door and have a tour of the house with the woman (her tours of the house could last as long as five hours, and usually happened in complete dark with the use of a torch). With her, the house became ‘an art centre for the neighbourhood’.

For instance, the one below is the garden room. As we can see, the room did not have much furniture, what made the room, in fact, was the art’s collection and Mrs. Stirling’s strong passion for the collection within those walls.

In contrast with Mrs. Stirling’s use of the house, a new tenant took a long lease on the house in 1971: the American millionaire, Malcom Forbes. With his arrival, Old Battersea House faced a big shift: from an art centre to a private house. The house was filled with a very expensive Victorian art collection. Objects and paintings were everywhere. The garden room, which is the same room analysed above, indeed, had a completely different look from when it was inhabited by Mrs. Stirling.



All the objects from Forbes’s collection where sold through an auction in 2011 by his sons, whilst Stirling’s collection is protected by the De Morgan Foundation, which was created by Mrs. Stirling just before she died in 1965.

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