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Outhouse by Loyn & Co

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This artists’ home and studio in the Forest of Dean is one of the most outstanding new houses in Britain this decade, says John Pardey


Architecture is essentially an urban profession, yet look out from the bright lights of the big city and something is stirring in the west. The Welsh Dragon has slid out of its lair and crept into the Forest of Dean.

Following Loyn & Co’s two consecutive Welsh Gold Medal-winning houses in 2014 and 2015 – Stormy Castle on Gower peninsula and Millbrook House on the outskirts of Cardiff – the Penarth-based practice has moved across the border with its latest striking new house.

Set on a gently sloping, south-facing wooded hillside with distant views towards the Wye Valley, the house was originally conceived around the idea of retaining the relics of three existing stone buildings on the site. These would be cut down to single-storey structures, creating open containers, or courtyards, that existed within a new overarching roof. Retaining these structures, however, would have meant the entire 590m² of the new house attracted a 20 per cent VAT charge, so after much debate it was eventually decided to rebuild the structures. The idea of transforming these inside spaces into outside spaces survives, and their seemingly random juxtaposition provides the narrative for a rich architectural assemblage within what otherwise appears as a simple linear pavilion.

A 50m-long concrete band provides a simplicity and abstract quality that belies the intricacies of the plan

Loyn & Co has laid a heavy, broad concrete lid over the site, capped with grass harvested from the adjacent meadow, forming part of the terrain. It opens out to the view with all supports set behind glass and black-stained timber panels so that it appears to float. Some 50m long, this concrete band provides a simplicity and abstract quality that belies the intricacies of the plan beyond. This singular expression recalls the House in Moledo, Portugal, which in the 1990s launched Eduardo Souto de Moura to a wider audience with a house that seemed to belong more to the terrain than to domesticity, a cave-like refuge set between two stone walls that acted like a dam, holding back the earth.

While incredibly architectural and strident, Loyn & Co’s latest house contains no hint of stylistic trends or architectural vanity detailing, but rather a modesty and a deep concern for the lifestyle of the clients – a retired couple who are both artists and wanted a home that could also act as a blank canvas for their art collection as well as a place in which to work. To this end, the plan is riven end to end along its length by a top-lit, stone paved aisle, which divides the living from the working studio spaces and provides a gallery for the owners’ art collection.

The building is cast in concrete – floors, walls and ceilings – with relief offered only by the black insertions of the rebuilt ghosts of the former buildings on the site, and dark stone slabs along the aisle. Loyn & Co’s celebrated Stormy Castle received some criticism that the house was more like an art gallery than a home (which is exactly what the delighted clients wanted), yet here, for its artist owners, the practice creates a home that can act as a gallery yet somehow makes for a sense of real domesticity. In the living space, some rugs and old leather sofas along with a few paintings offer the only contrast from the concrete carapace. One photograph shows one of the owners reading, avoiding the comfort of rugs and comfy chairs, clearly at home in a sea of grey, for when he looks up he has nature spread out before him as the perfect foil.

As one arrives from the east along a field track and through a few battered gates, the house appears as a floating concrete lid, open beneath as a carport with a box set beneath (a rebuilt relic in black concrete which acts as a cold store) and a few dark stained boarded panels providing a sense of enclosure. The front door appears deep beneath the roof, and a dramatic view is gained along the entire length of the house and out the other end. From the entrance, a second mysterious closed form greets the visitor, only revealing itself as a court at the far end where sliding screens reveal a water garden within – this is the second rebuilt relic of the former buildings on the site. The living space is divided again by a large inset court punched into the broad roof, open to the view and the sky so that kitchen, dining and living spaces lie to the east of this court, with two bedrooms to the west. This contained yet open court introduces nature, now tamed and abstracted, into the house, while outside, nature remains omnipresent. To the rear, two large top-lit studios are planned around the final rebuilt relics (once the house), which forms an almost secret garden in the heart of the plan. Both have tiny outdoor courts tucked into the earth to keep nature ever present.

The house not only looks good, but with the whole panoply of sustainable acronyms – MVHR, GSHP, PVs – as well as super insulated fabric and solar thermal arrays, it performs like a thoroughbred.

Viewed from the south, the house is muscular and uncompromising, a deep, long concrete band that floats across dark boarded panels and dark formed glazing, pierced only by a concrete (what else?) chimney, which sits within the inset courtyard terminating the living space. The whole edifice sits in turn on a concrete-edged platform, some 400mm high, so that while the house sits in nature, it also sits on nature, expressing the abstract against nature – almost the hallmark of Modernism from Corb to Mies; the way that man distinguishes himself from nature, yet works alongside it. Here it also provides a place to sit comfortably and enjoy the views.

Planners recommended the scheme’s refusal, saying it was out of context with the protected landscape

With such a singular monolithic interior, the house not only provides a neutral blank canvas for art works, but also an intense backdrop for light, which picks up the texture and ever-changing moods of the British climate. A few leaves that had fluttered down ahead of the concrete lid being cast have left imprints, like fossils in rock, to provide little treasures within the house.

Beautifully built by a family friend, with a construction process that the client says was a very happy experience, the scheme has prevailed against the odds. The planners recommended its refusal, stating that ‘it is considered that the proposed development is out of context with the protected landscape as the modern dwelling will result in a long linear building in an area which is characterised by modest dwellings with appropriate openings’. Thankfully, as anyone who has met principal architect Chris Loyn would recognise, his impassioned presentation to the planning committee did the trick. And thank goodness, too, for he has created one of the most outstanding new houses in Britain in a decade.

Source: Outhouse by Loyn & Co


Outhouse by Loyn & Co

Outhouse by Loyn & Co


Outhouse by Loyn & Co

Outhouse by Loyn & Co


Outhouse by Loyn & Co

Outhouse by Loyn & Co

Architect’s view

Established artists, our clients sought an environmentally responsible, lifetime and inspiring home, which would provide a series of interlinking, unique yet adaptable spaces for the different times of the day, large enough to spend days at a time as a live-work dwelling.

Our response to the brief and the breathtaking site was to create a single-storey dwelling embedded into the hillside. The layout, organised around a series of external courtyards which ‘trace’ the footprints of the buildings formerly on the site, provides an accessible and flexible home. Each courtyard provides a welcome, sheltered space and, along with a series of rooflights, allows light and air to penetrate deep into the floor plan. A gallery runs from east to west, dividing the live from the work, allowing a degree of separation and privacy to the north-lit buried artists’ studios.

The building is a sensitive albeit pure architectural form, barely visible between the hedgerows that line the entrance track and entice you toward the building. As you get closer, a covered entrance forecourt merges with the gallery and leads you into the central living space, from where you can appreciate the ever-changing views. Moving through this partially buried building, you are greeted by courtyards, which open themselves up to you allowing glimpses through and beyond, culminating in an intimate garden.

From the bespoke low-height worktops and cast-in concrete recess for hanging pictures to the series of spaces for art making and sculpture, the details and language of the house provide a bold, yet subtle, canvas for the clients’ special belongings. This is a home designed to enrich the lives of its users, to settle and mature within its surrounding landscape, and to suggest a new approach to sustainable, site-specific, passive design in housing.

Chris Loyn, founder, Loyn & Co

Outhouse by Loyn & Co

Outhouse by Loyn & Co

Source: Charles Hosea

Contractor’s view

The clients’ brief was to create a lifetime, flexible, environmentally responsible, contextual home including working art studios. At its core was sustainability, primarily in bringing an unoccupied site within a small community back into beneficial use, while significantly reducing its visual impact on the surrounding area of the Forest of Dean. The project has also surpassed all targets set within the clients’ brief, achieving an EPC rating of A Plus following a 96/100 score and an actual annual building emissions rate of 3.44kg/m².

The building achieves its credentials through a combination of a highly insulated fabric, including elements below 0.1W/m²K; an inverted green roof seeded from the adjacent field, with huge thermal mass potential; triple glazing; and technological systems such as photovoltaic solar panels, solar thermal panels, a ground source heat pump and MVHR. In addition a low-energy LED lighting scheme has been specified throughout.

Every specified element of the project was carefully considered for its environmental credentials and for its suitability to the exposed site. Key to the building’s life-cycle cost is the construction method chosen for its availability, suitability, longevity and low maintenance. While cast in-situ concrete is associated with an initial high carbon input, the building’s complex substructure greatly reduces the volume of concrete, while the GGBS and aggregate used were sourced from within five miles of the site. Furthermore, the building will recover this carbon use over its lifetime principally due to its durability and effect on the future energy requirements. The expression of the construction also reduces the finish materials required and those associated with their delivery and application. The building’s robust envelope, its north aspect and buried roof will provide a controlled environment that, together with its air permeability of 0.49m³/h.m² (as tested), thermal mass and MVHR system, will enable the dwelling to be resilient to seasonal and long-term climate change.

M&E-specific life cycle cost efficiency outline feasibility reports were provided to the clients at an early stage of the project to enable informed decisions and a holistic approach to the dwelling. Ground source heat pumps provide the main source of heating and hot-water generation throughout winter months, and solar thermal during the warmer months, multi-zoned to suit the intended lifestyle and occupancy. In addition PV panels provide 5.130kWp.

The A+ energy class MVHR unit enhances the project’s energy credentials. In addition to Building Regulation Part F compliancy, it also regains the heat energy from passive gains from its south-facing elevation, which contributes to minimising the energy consumption of the GSHP.

Its low-lying architectural form and sensitive integration into the hillside extend beyond the dwelling itself and include a substantial landscape proposal using indigenous species, hedgerows and turning vast areas of the site back to meadow.

We are based in the Forest Of Dean, and as far as possible, used locally based trades and suppliers.

Christopher Milliner, main contractor, Forest Eco Systems

Outhouse by Loyn & Co

Outhouse by Loyn & Co

Source: Charles Hosea

Project data

Commissioned 2010
Start on site May 2013
Completion December 2014
Gross internal floor area 490m2
Form of contract or procurement route Design and Build
Construction cost undisclosed
Architect Loyn & Co
Client private
Structural engineer WL2
M&E consultant Vitec
QS Moseley Partnership
Landscape architect Morgan Henshaw
Approved building inspector Meridian Consult
Main contractor Forest Eco Systems
CAD software used AutoCAD

Outhouse by Loyn & Co

Outhouse by Loyn & Co

Source: Charles Hosea

Environmental data

Annual CO2 emissions 4004.00kg/m2
On-site energy generation 56 per cent via ground source heat pump, solar thermal and photovoltaic
Airtightness at 50Pa 0.49m3/h.m2
Heating and hot water load 7748kWh/m2/yr
Overall area-weighted U-value 0.17W/m2K

Outhouse by Loyn & Co

Outhouse by Loyn & Co

Source: Charles Hosea


Mono-pitch triple-glazed roof lights by Clear Living

Triple-glazed external windows and doors by Internorm Timber/aluminium lift-and-slide door HS330 suitable for Passivhaus

Roof, floor and wall insulation by Dow Xenergy and Floormate

Sanitaryware by Vola and Laufen

Bespoke handmade kitchen by Miles Laughton Joinery

Kitchen appliances by Guggenau

Whole house MVHR Vallox 145 SE

Internal sliding and hinged doors by Selo

LED and gallery style lighting by Havells Slyvannia

Gallery stone tiles by Mandarin Stone

Rendered soffit to underside of solar shading by Sto

Outhouse by Loyn & Co

Outhouse by Loyn & Co

Source: Charles Hosea


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