Many sites in London are the consequence of the city’s turbulent history of development, destruction and redevelopment – a pattern of boom, bust, and bomb. That was the case for this site in a Southwark Conservation area, where we were commissioned to build a new town house.The area was originally developed in the early 1800s as a terrace of houses facing a generous central park. By the 1870s, pressure on land meant that the park was developed into terrace housing, but the area was bombed in 1942, and a portion of the terrace was destroyed. Our site, on a narrow piece of land, less than half the width of the adjacent houses was at the edge of this bombed area, now used as a community garden.
The key concept was to build a house that was “strangely familiar”; strange in its expression, but familiar in its materiality and detail. Southwark Council supported a design which offered a strong architectural presence to the Community Gardens. Our solution was to refer to the dog-tooth brick cornice detail of the adjacent terraced houses and express this detail on the front and side elevations in a new and slightly unexpected way. Roof and fenestration lines are carried through from old to new, but translated into new proportions and new relationships. The material and geometric connection of new and old anchors the building to its context, and hopefully means that the building doesn’t look too much like the new kid on the block.
Internally, the house is divided into two functional zones – “servant zone” occupying the northern half and “served zone” occupying the southern half. The circulation space benefits from 3 no. north facing windows and all the bed rooms can enjoy ample daylight and sunlight through south facing windows. Particular attention was paid on the environment of the lower ground floor (half-basement), which accommodated the living, dining and kitchen. There are multiple daylight sources to this space, each facing different orientations – full height sliding doors facing south, a roof-light, and a high level park facing window at the top of a light shaft. The ceiling slopes upward to the garden, allowing light to penetrate deep into the space, and shadows from the trees outside to animate the space within.
London is a brick city, and this is a brick house. The three elevations of the project all have a unique combination of red and yellow bricks stacked in different bonding types. We worked with both Fluid Structures Ltd. and March Construction Ltd. to test a variety of brick junction ideas by making 1:1 mock ups. We are grateful to both companies for their perseverance, craftsmanship and engagement with the project, which resulted in the house’s subtly sculptural appearance.
The project was a subject of an environmental study for The Architectural Association School of Architecture. The students researched where the envelope materials originated by tracing back the material transportation starting from local building material suppliers in London. Their reports revealed the bricks and OSBs we used had travelled significant distances. Our specification activities are largely influenced by aesthetics, costs, availability and contractor’s preferences. The case study alerts us of a responsibility as a specifier to make more conscious decisions by understanding more than properties of an end-product.