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Duncan Terrace by Niall McLaughlin Architects

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This London house by Niall McLaughlin Architects has evolved over 15 years to house the owners’ collection of contemporary art

Penny Mason and Richard Sykes acquired a Grade II-listed Georgian house in Islington with the intention of repairing and extending it to frame their lovely collection of contemporary art and ceramics. They held a small competition and Niall McLaughlin Architects were appointed in 1999.

After 15 years of incremental development the project is complete. The collection has developed over time and the house now contains new site-specific installations. The finished building remains loyal to the architect’s original intentions, despite the long gestation period.

This is an end of terrace house with elegant windows on three sides and a beautiful front door opening off the side street. The relatively unusual arrangement means that the main staircase sits in the middle of the house at right angles to the grain of the terrace. The architect has created a clear plan on each floor that allows you to walk around the staircase in a circuit of small chambers. There are two main rooms on each level. They have been twinned as a pair of offices in the basement, kitchen/dining room on the ground floor, drawing room/library on the first floor, master bedroom/bathroom/dressing room on the second floor and two guest rooms on the top level.

The garden of the property runs along Charlton Place and is separated from the street by a high, listed wall. On the far side, the wall drops by two levels to the lower garden. The architect has created a screen against this wall that encloses a narrow, tall passageway linking to a gallery at the end. The roof of the gallery is a parking space at street level. The screen is made from cast plaster blocks held in an array with light coming through the gaps between each block. A diaphanous glass sheet protects it. The glass mutes direct sunlight as it comes through the blocks and the blocks appear as muffled white shapes behind the glass. The screen is intended to gather light from both sides and hold it on a single surface. The changeable shadow cast by a large tree in the neighbour’s garden creates constant movement on the surface. An old doorway in the 18th-century wall has been glazed to reveal the two-storey back of the plaster screen.

The gallery and passageway contain three site-specific installations: Venge, a brass sculpture by Claire Barclay; Water Falls: Waters of Joyce I & II, a piece with mirror and text by David Ward; and Silver Slip, a series of loops on the old wall by Alice Channer. The building and artworks together create an interconnected ensemble.

  • Niall McLaughlin, director, Niall McLaughlin Architects

Duncan Terrace by Niall McLaughlin Architects

Project data

Start date 2001
Completion 2013
Gross internal floor area 302m2
Total cost Undisclosed
Form of contract JCT Intermediate Building Contract
Client Penny Mason and Richard Sykes
Architect Niall McLaughlin Architects
Structural engineer Price and Myers
Contractor K Kerai Builders
Quantity surveyor Sworn King & Partners
Party wall surveyor Watkinson + Cosgrave


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