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142 South Street by Sandy Rendel Architects

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Persistence in the face of a planning rejection and bold interpretation of the context have created a striking new landmark building for Lewes, says Laura Mark

PROJECT DATA • ARCHITECT’S VIEW • CLIENT’S VIEW • DETAIL • SPECIFICATION • COSTS • PLANS • SECTION  

Once described by Mayor Susan Murray as ‘ugly’ and a ‘blot on the landscape’, this Cor-ten-clad house has challenged the people of Lewes. The London clients could have found an easier way to endear themselves to the local community. Sitting at the gateway to the Sussex market town, its prominent position means the five-bedroom home by Sandy Rendel Architects is the first thing anyone sees on the road into town.

In fact, Sandy Rendel had begun with a more sensitive scheme using the traditional mathematical tiles common in the area. But planners asked for a bolder addition to the important site, something radical. It’s not often you hear that from planners. Rendel, alongside his ambitious clients, saw this as their green flag and along came the contemporary, rusted form. ‘It was really well-supported. It did well at design review and the planners loved it,’ Rendel tells me as we walk through the town to the site. However, the scheme was unanimously rejected at committee. The client, unphased, went to appeal and the contentious scheme got through second time around.

The 11m-wide site was a tricky one. Bounded by a busy road, chalk cliff face and the river Ouse, it backs on to a former quarry on the site where chalk from the cliff was loaded onto barges. After the quarry closed a cement factory was built on the site and since that shut it had become a dumping ground for waste. This all added to the complications – access was tight, the ground had been made up of backfill and too much disruption to the embankment could cause the site to slide into the water. Piles were drilled 15m deep into the bedrock to protect the river wall from pressure from the house and works.

The most recognisable and contentious, yet defining, element of this house is its upper-storey Cor-ten cladding. The weathered metal mesh spans across windows and openings at first-floor level, allowing light in and views out at the same time as giving privacy. At night the house glows from within the sculpted Cor-ten box. At ground floor level, board-marked concrete borrows from the textures of the river wall, while on the road side brickwork gives a nod to the local vernacular.

The proximity of the road to the cliff face gave rise to noise problems; the sound of traffic is reflected from the imposing cliff walls and back towards the house. This has to some extent dictated the layout of the house’s interior space. The main living areas are all on the river side of the building, with ancillary spaces and bathrooms facing the road. Aided by an MVHR system and triple glazing, it is surprisingly quiet inside and hard to believe that the A26 is just metres away.

The entrance through a hallway clad in blackened oak feels small, almost claustrophobic but, as you proceed, the ground floor unfolds into a singular large rectangular living space. The interior is austere but there is a feeling of craft, especially in the work of local furniture designer Jeremy Pitts. As he had previously done at Duggan Morris’s Old Bearhurst scheme, Pitts has transformed the space with a similar large tabletop made from the trunk of a 200-year-old Elm tree tied together with dark timber butterfly joints and raised on metal legs. He also created the large staircase and its interior wall linings, incorporating integrated cupboards. Upstairs is more cosy. The rooms are modestly sized and storage is built-in; the spaces are practical and feel right for a growing family. On the river side, the bedrooms project out over the living space and give the impression of floating above the water. Sculptural ceilings add interest, reflecting the lines of the roofscape, which borrows its form from the chiselled-out fissures of the chalk cliff.

The house doesn’t shy away from inquisitive passers-by, with an expanse of frameless glazing at ground floor level. There are neither blinds nor curtains, meaning anyone driving up the road or walking in the nature reserve across the river can see in. With its Cor-ten roof and bold, unadorned aesthetic the house, due to its prominence, has divided opinion in the town – people either love it or hate it. Rendel has been brave and, by eschewing tradition, has created a landmark for Lewes.

Ground floor plan

142 South Street by Sandy Rendel Architects

142 South Street by Sandy Rendel Architects

First floor plan

142 South Street by Sandy Rendel Architects

142 South Street by Sandy Rendel Architects

Section

142 South Street by Sandy Rendel Architects

142 South Street by Sandy Rendel Architects

Detail

142 South Street by Sandy Rendel Architects

142 South Street by Sandy Rendel Architects

Key to the design of the house is the external treatment of the first-floor walls and roof. Here, the lightweight structure is clad in a continuous skin of expanded Cor-ten steel mesh, which wraps the entire volume to conceal traditional elements such as gutters and fascias and emphasise and articulate the overall form

For the walls, the cladding is detailed as a traditional rainscreen, whereas on the roof the mesh orientation is reversed and water encouraged to pass through to the weathering layer and concealed drainage beneath. The roof mesh is supported on a top hat rail system secured to proprietary fixing bars that are hot-welded to the single-ply membrane. These were originally developed to support solar panels and provide a non-penetrative fixing base to the membrane that can be adapted for a wide range of uses.

We worked closely with the mesh fabricators and installers to understand the limitations and tolerances of the material to develop detailing that could accommodate these while still achieving the crisp appearance we desired. Cor-ten steel fins articulate the junctions between planes at the hips, verges, corners and eaves, while also closing the ventilated cavity at its head and draining back to the roof membrane or gutters.

The window surrounds are formed as fully welded Cor-ten cassettes, which are secured to the structure behind and in turn support the mesh vent panels that mask the opening elements of the first-floor windows.

Sandy Rendel, founder, Sandy Rendel Architects

142 South Street by Sandy Rendel Architects

142 South Street by Sandy Rendel Architects

Source: Richard Chivers

Architect’s view

Though it lies within the South Downs National Park, adjacent to a Listed Building and on the edge of a Conservation Area, the planners stipulated the need for a bold and striking design to reflect its position at the gateway into the town. 

Our challenge was how to balance this desire while remaining sensitive to the history, character, grain and scale of the surroundings and we have attempted to do this both through its form and the choice of materials. 

The design uses a combination of traditional and non-traditional materials to give the house a clear identity and unique character while binding it to its context and adding to the rich architectural heritage of the town. Traditional ash-glazed Sussex brickwork provides a soft and familiar texture to the street, whereas from the river side the board-marked concrete frame reflects the existing roughcast river wall it sits directly over and the striations of the chalk cliff behind. Above this, a continuous Cor-ten mesh skin echoes the tones of the local soft red clay brickwork and tiles and alludes to the industrial heritage of the site. 

It is an abstracted version of the adjacent pitched roof vernacular buildings, stripping away their detail and echoing the shapes and scars on the quarry face behind to produce a form that is both familiar and unfamiliar. 

The building has had a long gestation, with progress stymied by the vagaries of planning committees and the complexities of self-build funding. However as the cladding gradually weathers and develops its patina, the house feels increasingly bound to, and respectful of, its setting.

Sandy Rendel, Sandy Rendel Architects

142 South Street by Sandy Rendel Architects

142 South Street by Sandy Rendel Architects

Source: Richard Chivers

Client’s view

Our home was born out of a close collaboration between Sandy Rendel, Peter Carter of Myriad Construction, joiner Jeremy Pitts and engineer Stephen Evans. In Sandy we found an architect that shared our passion and commitment to create a home on an imposing and challenging site that had been left vacant for many years. His bold vision provided the impetus for us to overcome local opposition and the protracted planning process and persevere with a design that is deserving of its status as the ‘gateway to Lewes’. In Peter and Jeremy we found a builder and craftsman that could deliver a house to our and Sandy’s exacting standards. The result is a family home that is both a pleasure to live in and a beautiful building that enhances the local landscape.

Stephen Yeomans, client

142 South Street by Sandy Rendel Architects

142 South Street by Sandy Rendel Architects

Source: Oliver Perrott

Project data

Start on site November 2014
Completion October 2015
Gross internal floor area 257m2
Form of contract or procurement route JCT Intermediate Building Contract with Contractor’s Design
Construction cost £690,000
Construction cost per m2 £ 2,685
Architect Sandy Rendel Architects
Client Stephen Yeomans and Anita Findlay
Structural engineer Stephen Evans Associates
QS Stephen Evans Associates
Interior joinery design (kitchen and staircase) Jeremy Pitts
Approved building inspector Rother District Council LABC
Main contractor Myriad Construction
CAD software used Vectorworks
Annual CO2 emissions 16.4 kg/m2 (SAP estimate)

142 South Street by Sandy Rendel Architects

142 South Street by Sandy Rendel Architects

Source: Oliver Perrott

Specification 

Rainscreen cladding for roof and walls by ICS IMAR Cor-ten expanded mesh 

SIPS panels by Kingspan TEK 

Single-ply membrane roofing Renolit Alkorplan with Alkorsolar fixing bars 

Ground-floor sliding doors and structural glazing by IQ Glass Keller Minimal Windows 

First-floor triple-glazed anodised aluminium windows by Luxal Reynaers CS77 

Brickwork by Lambs Handmade mixed grey ash glazed bricks 

Sanitaryware by CP Hart Duravit, Geberit and Vola 

Internal joinery (oak staircase, wall linings and kitchen) by Inglis Hall and Co 

Ground floor terrazo flooring by Janatti Marble 600x600mm Agglotech Linea Unico

142 South Street by Sandy Rendel Architects

142 South Street by Sandy Rendel Architects

Source: Leigh Simpson

Costs

 COST PER M² (£)PORTION OF TOTAL (%)
SUBSTRUCTURE 203.5 7.6
   
SUPERSTUCTURE  
Frame 313.21 11.7
Roof 227.06 8.5
Staircases 46.69 1.7
External walls 214.79 8
Windows and external doors 337.84 12.6
Internal walls and partitions 26.75 1
Internal doors 33.27 1.2
GROUP ELEMENT TOTAL 1,199.61 44.7
   
INTERNAL FINISHES  
Wall finishes 87.06 3.2
Floor finishes 136.77 5.1
Ceiling finishes 49.61 1.8
GROUP ELEMENT TOTAL 273.44 10.2
   
FITTINGS AND FURNISHINGS  
Fitted furniture, kitchen and bathroom joinery 288.85 10.8
   
SERVICES  
Sanitary appliances 55.84 2.1
Disposal installations 64.49 2.4
Water installations 29.77 1.1
Space heating and air treatment 52.33 1.9
Electrical services 114.22 4.3
Protective installations 18.48 0.7
Communications installation 17.76 0.7
GROUP ELEMENT TOTAL 352.9 13.1
   
EXTERNAL WORKS 150.78 5.6
   
PRELIMINARIES AND INSURANCE 215.74 8
     
TOTAL  2684.83 100

 

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