There is a certain point in an architectural career, after graduating from college and before creating a portfolio of built projects, where anything is possible. This optimistic time is between imagination and realisation.
Appropriately named, 'In Between' is the project that brought together the London-based trio Silvia Ullmayer, Annalie Riches and Barti Garibaldo. It has been awarded a Future House London Award, a RIBA Award and, more recently, the prestigious First Building Award, sponsored by RobinEllis Design and Construction and announced at the Stirling Prize dinner.
The three met while studying architecture at London Metropolitan University and, after gaining some professional experience, bravely decided to embark on this ambitious project together. 'People said 'you're mad - three architects designing together but without a practice!'' Riches explains as we sit around the kitchen table at Ullmayer's house to discuss their current work and future plans over a cup of tea. This project is a one-off, conceived as a unique collaboration before the three continue their own separate careers in architecture.
'In Between' is a small, urban intervention of three houses, a reworking of the typical London terraced house. Observing the designers together, they are relaxed and easygoing; it is easy to see how they worked through the frustration of building their first project.
After months of spending their Saturdays together searching for an affordable, urban site with character, they eventually found Whatcott's Yard in Stoke Newington, in the courtyard of a disused former goods yard. They agreed it was perfect and began designing.
The three houses complement each other surprisingly well, given their initial strategy was to agree only on size, siting, exterior elevations and materials. After spending time separately developing ideas and designing, they would reconvene around each other's kitchen tables, discussing the three houses, each confined to a 45m 2 footprint and each with a private strip of garden.
They had many problems obtaining planning permission and were still appealing these constraints when they bought the property. They had difficulties fi nding a mortgage lender and the project was plagued by financial problems resulting in delays.
When they tell the story of building it, they laugh and joke, utterly relieved it has been such a worthwhile venture. Riches says the process of building now seems like a blur - and she seems happy to keep it that way. She does reveal that she learned key plumbing and electrical skills on the job and that she has been helping friends with their houses ever since - although she looks an unlikely plumber. 'Looking at the building, I sometimes can't believe we really did it, ' she marvels. Garibaldo tells animated stories of fitting the enormous pieces of roof sheeting in the wind and rain. He thinks the best part of the building project is looking back. Construction began in April 2001 and the three moved in a year later, although they were still camping out for another year.
Each of the houses is infused with the designer's own personality. After working at Robert Dye and Edward Cullinan, where she got her Part 3 qualification, Riches decided the time was right to build something on her own. As the only one of the three born in the UK, the group wonders if it is her English sensibility that governed her carefully constructed views to the surroundings. In her design, she frames the landscape, restricting views of the mundane terrace houses and trying to capture the tall trees and garden. 'When I'm cooking, I pretend I'm in the wilderness cooking with a view out in my big kitchen, ' she says.
Ullmayer, on the other hand, says she's not tired of the terrace houses, and has designed larger views to the urban surroundings. Originally from Germany, she has lived in the UK for 10 years. She came to the project after spending four years with Carouso St. John, working her way up to associate level and becoming a registered architect. She says she, too, was eager to build something on her own. She says her inspiration was creating a 'clearly defined but changeable space'.
Her house is very calm and peaceful with a small, but well-proportioned, kitchen with views out to the garden. The open-plan living room has a raised, contained sleeping loft in the corner. In the midst of the clean modern lines of this flat, a ladder is propped awkwardly up against the glass. Climbing up, there are delightful views above the neighbouring terrace houses over the garden wall. To the other side, a view down overlooks the large, luxury, skylit bathroom. This quirky, customised interior view reflects the optimistic and imaginative spirit of each of the houses.
At the end of the row, Garibaldo's house also has the kitchen as its hearth, a warm and inviting space with big windows. He explains that he wanted a typical Italian kitchen with a big table so that he could entertain and cook for family and friends. The hearth is built into a staircase leading up to the top floor. He has organised his house into two separate suites: a ground-floor studio that leads to the garden; and a two-bedroom house above. After graduating, he worked for his tutors at London Met, Fluid, and did his Master's degree in new building-material technologies. He tutored at London Met before working on the house. He has just returned from what he calls a 'year out' in Italy to study timber frame buildings, a long standing research interest that is revealed in the exposed timber structure in his kitchen.
It turns out, on further discussion, that this project had, in a way, six architects and six clients. Each of the three designers involved in the project has a partner who is an architect, perhaps making them more tolerant of the chaos involved. Ullmayer, while working part time at Allies and Morrison, also ran a practice called Ullmayer and Sylvester with her partner. They have just finished a guest house for a client they met through the London Open House event that featured 'In Between' last year.
Riches' partner is the architect David Mikhail, and she has just won the 'Shrinking Cities' competition with another collaborator, Cathy Hawley. While the trio have no further plans to work together professionally, they are enjoying living in their houses and are inspired by all the positive attention they have received. They took the typology of the terrace house and reorganised it into something more contemporary and flexible.