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The perfect mix

An ingenious solution persuaded planners to allow the construction of an uncompromisingly modern house on a backlands site in west London The winner of the Manser Medal 2001 for the best one-off house in the UK was a steelframed house in Barnes, West London, designed by Cezary Bednarski. The modest live/work house is tucked into a mews lane that gives access to the back gardens of the surrounding terraces. It is on the site of a former coach house that stood neglected and run down for many years at the bottom of the client's garden. After two planning refusals, submitted by other architects, for permission to develop the coach house as a dwelling, and an appeal which was turned down in 1990, the client turned to Bednarski in despair - could anything be done to create a two-storey, three-bedroom house for sale or rent?

Because the land-use designation for the site was employment-related, Bednarski realised that a live/work development might have a chance of meeting planning objections. His submissions for two alternative projects, one with a workspace on the ground floor, the other with a first-floor studio, both received planning permission and the latter option was adopted, with detail design work carried out by Studio E Architects, the practice co-founded by Bednarski in 1994.

The result is uncompromisingly modern - white rendered walls and a barrel-vaulted roof - after positive negotiations with the local planning authority. And in spite of the very awkward plot, constrained by problems of overlooking, with few opportunities of windows and restrictions in the amount of natural light, the interior appears light and spacious. In area the house is relatively small- 252m 2- which includes a double garage, three terraces and four bedrooms.

Steel-frame construction was used to allow the layout of rooms to be altered relatively easily with minimum trouble and expense.

A warm, aspen-panelled garage door and lobby wall indicates the main entrance; the panelling extends on the inside to line the spine wall of the staircase and rises to the roof terrace. Bedrooms and bathrooms are at ground level. Two bedrooms are designed to be adapted as work spaces if required;

they have glazed doors which look out to a small patio garden. The bedrooms are served by two bathrooms, one en-suite with a walkthrough wardrobe in the master bedroom.

When you walk up the aspen-panelled stairs to the first floor you find kitchen, extra WC and the piece de resistance - a large studio/living space, 9.9 x 4.2m in size and 4.2m high, with a barrel-vaulted roof. A door from the kitchen leads outside to a terrace; two further terraces can be found at the top of the stairs at roof level; they get the sun all day and are given a degree of privacy by patterned glass balustrades.

The house is designed to be energy efficient, with 200mm of mineral-fibre insulation in the roof and double-glazed windows in Douglas fir frames. Ground-floor windows are glazed with laminated glass for safety and security. Floors throughout the house are of natural-oak laminate. The curved ceiling of the vault is lined with aspen-veneered MDF sheets screwed to a ply membrane which forms the lower part of the structure of the diaphragm roof.

The barrel vault is covered in aluminium with standing seams, finished with a coating that resembles patinated copper. The curved gables are each edged with a PFC (parallel flange channel) which frames a 9.9m long lunette of frameless glass; it has two vertical joints which are framed with silicone. 'The aim of the edge detail was to achieve visual lightness and minimal depth, ' says Bednarski.

'Metal roof edges are usually quite chunky.

Here it works well: the roof appears effortless, almost like a caterpillar arching upwards to move along the top of the side wall.'

The 'effortless' appearance was achieved with very careful detailing; the curved gable and the steel box gutters which run along the end walls form a perimeter frame to the vault.

At the corners this frame rests on steel stubs and angle brackets which are bolted to the corner columns. The steel components are used with economy, so that one element has several functions - for instance, the PFC channel ties which run on the wall below the gables also house concealed uplighters; in another instance, a lug welded along the top flange of each curved channel provides a concealed fixing for the roof flashing.

The front entrance wall, which runs below one of the curved gables, raised a structural problem; it is cantilevered from first-floor level and vertically supported only at the end corners. The solution was to design the wall and the lunette glazing to allow for flexing - it would have proved costly and unsightly to make the wall rigid.

Another serious design problem, given the awkwardly shaped backland plot, was where to place the windows. The site was bounded on two sides by party walls in which no openings could be placed. And a large part of the entrance elevation was on a party line where no windows were permitted except by agreement with the adjacent owner (this was achieved in respect of the high-level windows below the curved roof ).

In the end it was necessary to buy a triangular piece of land from a neighbour to allow windows to the third bedroom and studio to be created and to improve access to the garage.

CREDITS

ARCHITECT Cezary Bednarski of Studio E Architects Richard Ager, Rich Battye, Tim J Curtis, Steve Hardy, Akira Koyama STRUCTURAL ENGINEER McCartney Rose Partnership SUPPLIERS aluminium roof Broderick; external render Snowcem; garage door Novoferm; oak laminate floor Galacraft; slate floor Alfred McAlpine Slate; glass balustrade Solaglas The house slots cleverly into its backlands site and its interior appears light and spacious

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