High Cross House – update on plans

UPDATE, February 2017

High Cross House, William Lescaze’s 1932 Modernist masterpiece, sits at the heart of the Dartington estate. The Trust is firmly committed to restoring this remarkable building and to bringing it back to life with an appropriate and viable use.

Following the well-attended public meetings held by the Trust in July 2016, the future of High Cross House is now being addressed by the Trust as part of its new strategy.  While High Cross House could have been restored as an individual home or as holiday accommodation, our public consultation concluded that a more public use would be appropriate – much more in line with the Trust’s new thinking.  A plan is being developed to restore the building as a centre for a range of creative and experimental activities including local, national and international workshops, residencies and retreats.  It will be a key part of the Trust’s programme to revive the original international Dartington Hall experiment founded by Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst in the 1920s.

Under the plans, High Cross House would become a Living Lab, hosting events at the core of the Estate’s programme of learning development designed to identify era-defining ideas for educational, cultural, commercial and humanitarian benefit. Erasing conventional boundaries between art, science, design, ecology, philosophy and economics, the programme would tackle the intractable challenges faced by our 21st Century global society. A feasibility study is underway and further information will be announced in Summer 2017.

UPDATE, August 2016

Over 15 ideas were presented for High Cross House at these public meetings. They ranged from providing an experience for individual creatives or guests through to being a centre for heritage, learning or new thinking – spanning disciplines of arts, ecology, spirituality, architecture, design, education, heritage and healthcare.

Dartington Management Team will review all the expressions of interest, with input from Trustees, alongside existing proposals which include a lab for experimental thinking, exhibition space, learning or arts centre, holiday let, part-share and private residential.

Any project will need to have the potential to address the challenges of restoring, maintaining and preserving a modernist listed building. The Trust hopes to be in a position to enter into more detailed discussions in the autumn around shortlisted projects.

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Do you have an idea or workable project which could restore and deliver a viable future use for High Cross House?

We are holding a public meeting on Thursday 7 July 2016 at High Cross House to hear your proposals for bringing this iconic building back into sustainable use, as part of our ongoing commitment to involve the community in our plans for the future of the estate.

Your ideas for High Cross House will then be considered alongside other proposals that have already been suggested to the Trust, before we decide which options to explore further.

High Cross House. Photographer: Nigel Shuttleworth
High Cross House. Photographer: Nigel Shuttleworth

The format

Two public sessions will be held: the first starting at 3.00 pm with the house open for viewing from 2.00 pm; and the second at 6.30 pm with the house open for viewing from 5.30 pm.

Rhodri Samuel, Trust CEO, and Jo Talling, Property Director, will outline some of the projects that have been and are being considered together with the challenges faced by Dartington in maintaining and conserving a Modernist, Grade II* listed building. There will be an opportunity for questions and discussion.

Expressions of interest are invited from anyone who has a specific project in mind for High Cross House and they would be welcome to briefly present their ideas at the consultation if preferred. If you would like to present your idea at the meeting, please let us know when booking your place.

Booking for these sessions is essential as numbers will be limited due to the capacity of High Cross House. If you would like to book a place, please email highcrosshouse@dartington.org stating which session you would like to attend.

If you have a potential proposal for High Cross House but are unable to attend the consultation event on 7 July, please contact us at highcrosshouse@dartington.org providing brief details of your project.

Historical significance

High Cross House, completed in 1932, was designed by Swiss American architect, William Lescaze, and built for William Curry, the first headmaster of Dartington Hall School, as ‘a machine for living in’. It is a building of modernist construction, inspired by the De Stijl movement, Le Corbusier and the Bauhaus school of design. It was used by some subsequent headmasters and as a hostel for some of the school’s pupils and other estate students until the school closed.

In 1994 the Trust commissioned John Winter and Associates to renovate High Cross House as a showcase for Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst’s collection of paintings and ceramics and to be a home to the Trust’s Archive. Dartington’s Archive & Collection was at High Cross House until 2011.

Between 2012 and 2014, the National Trust opened the House to the public but it has been unoccupied since the National Trust vacated in 2014.



11 thoughts on “High Cross House – update on plans

  1. Are there any further updates on this? I am somewhat late to the party. I personally think that as testament to the fine (and locally uncommon) example of British modernism it would be a good idea to celebrate it as such. William Lescaze House in New York is cited to have been the cities first modernist residential property, it was built in 1934. The fact that we have an example that predates this nestled in the Dartington woodland is quite remarkable. Devon gets over looked phenomenally in terms of its architectural history and a museum of modernism in rural locations would be incredibly fitting, and could still hold the attractions mentioned above (vintage festival etc). Exhibitions to demonstrate the innovative and forward thinking modernists whose work has been associated with Devon would certainly be something I’d like to see and get involved with, and would also be reflective of the Elmhirsts founding principles.

  2. Hello.
    Where are the plans at now for this building, the last update here being from 2017? I have my own thoughts for its future such as a centre for education of the built environment?

    This building would make a very interesting place to study not only building conservation and architecture but also architectural technology and building surveying?

    The RICS (royal institute of chartered surveyors) and the CIOB (chartered ins’ of builders), host talks throughout the UK on sustainable construction and development and think i High Cross would be a great setting for such talks given the buildings own historical importance.

    I am attending the next dartington estate development meeting so I’m hoping to walk the grounds then and hear if there are any new plans?


    1. Hi Oliver – thanks for your message. When you say development meetings it sounds like you might be referring to the development talk at our upcoming Open House event? (www.dartingtonorg/openhouse). If it’s not we’d highly recommend you attend if you can as it will be the next chance for members of the public to hear our latest plans and feed back.

  3. The Trust should be ashamed of themselves. As it is they have very few examples of good 20th Century public buildings let alone domestic ones. They can find the resources to purchase and fund 3 of the former Beatles homes and yet have gone some way to seeing the loss of this ‘iconic’ Modernist gem.
    I’m almost tempted to resign my membership.

    1. I agree but someone would pay a lot more to live in a modernist house like this ,it is large so rent should be sensible to reflect this. Having someone living in it will help with overall upkeep, tragedy that no one is enjoying living in such a great building and location!

  4. I agree with the thinking in the suggestion by Verena. But it would be a shame if the building were only available to wealthy people for holidays so maybe one week (or weekend) a month it could be open to the public. maybe a crowdfunding scheme could be set up to furnish it as well as asking for suitable donations. I believe this worked for the Hotel on Burgh Island.

  5. Idea 1.
    My suggestion is that consideration is given be a high end holiday accommodation (available year round) – this beautiful building has potential for restoration to it’s original glory of the 1930’s.

    A ‘serviced’ property with all the glamour of having house staff and a real ‘experience’. The rooms returned to their original purposes not only could make this a experience holiday but have great value as a restored property (suitable for film).

    Return the kitchen to it’s original position – and staff quarters with vintage style uniforms for staff- and open out the bedroom accommodation to either individual hire or ‘whole house’ options.

    Idea 2. (not separate to Idea 1)
    I also believe it could be the centre of a vintage festival on the estate that takes best advantage of the vintage (1930-1950’s) revival (currently en-vogue) of interest in the era that this building personifies. The immediate grounds could host a festival attracting a weekend event (camping and vendors). There are many vendors (from clothes, restored original items through to vintage makeup and hairdressing) that are very popular.

    This festival could be a attractor to the rest of the estate – maybe showing vintage films in the Barn (or outside in the grounds if the weather is right).

    I’d also suggest a vintage car festival to attract other interest to the ‘festival’. Era appropriate bands and entertainment for a ‘family festival’ feel.

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