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Manser Medal shortlist: Crowbrook by Knox Bhavan

Crowbrook, Ware, Hertfordshire by Knox Bhavan Architects. Photography by Dennis Gilbert

Crowbrook is unashamedly modern, a ‘simple house made special’ that addresses disability without making it an issue. It sits within a beautiful well-established garden on the footprint of a shoddy 1970s bungalow, preserving the garden, views and aspect, but miraculously feeling twice the size.

Mark de Rivaz has rheumatoid arthritis. He and his wife Bee wanted a purpose-designed, fully accessible, spacious, comfortable, environmentally efficient, easy to use, modern and beautiful new house. They work long hours at home, so an enjoyable place to work is essential, and Mark must be connected to the heart of the house when convalescing. They have five adult children so the house must work primarily for use by a couple, while including enough sleeping spaces and bathrooms for occasional heavier use.

To optimise the use of space, corridors are banished, sleeping space made flexible, fixed glazing with solid shutters installed, and bay windows with flush ceilings project out into the landscape. Finishes are simple, painted plaster, standard white bathroom tiles and basalt floor tiles. While most of the house has a 2.4m ceiling height, the lifted ceiling at the heart of the house and mirror-lined rooflight capture light from every direction, filling the space. Deliberate long views and glazed open corners give the house a strong connection with the garden.

Crowbrook07_c_DennisGilbert

Constructed as a breathing timber frame, fully filled with cellulose fibre insulation, clad in the local vernacular black boarding set on a brick plinth, Crowbrook has been carefully orientated to make full use of passive solar gain while reducing heat loss and solar glare. With LED lighting, low-energy water devices, PV and solar thermal panels feeding underfloor heating, water butts and a planted green roof, the benefits of the energy-efficient construction and orientation are boosted even further.

Set within a conservation area, Crowbrook is a striking, modern, energy efficient and empathetic reinterpretation of the local vernacular, using standard components. Generously day lit, with careful and sensitive detailing, flush thresholds and sliding doors, it responds unobtrusively to the physical needs and aspirations of the client.

Sasha Bhavan, partner, Knox Bhavan Architects

Judges’ citation

Crowbrook is a house with a mid-20th-century feel, in a conservation area in a Hertfordshire village, created for a couple as a place to live and work. The husband has limited mobility therefore the brief demanded maximum accessibility throughout.

This functional requirement has led to a design that considers the house and garden as a world of its own: a place in which it is easy to spend time without feeling the need to escape.

The house is single storey throughout, but at its centre, in the living room, the roof pops up to form a tower allowing high-level windows to bring daylight into the heart of the house. The H-shaped plan means the rest of the house also brims with natural light.

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