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FIRST LOOK

Peter Zumthor’s Secular Retreat nears completion in Devon

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After a decade-long genesis, the highly crafted contemporary ‘holiday house’ for Living Architecture will begin hosting visitors in March

The wait for the Secular Retreat – the first permanent work by Peter Zumthor in the UK – is almost over. Due to complete by the end of November, the rammed-concrete five-bedroom house near Chivelstone in Devon is the last of seven houses commissioned by Alain de Botton’s Living Architecture. Others include MVRDV’s Balancing Barn and FAT’s A House for Essex with artist Grayson Perry.

2089 original

2089 original

The house sits on a hill overlooking the coast, with views in all directions from a plan that is centred around an open-plan living space, off which two wings pivot. Huge floor-to-ceiling glazed openings alternate with distinctive striated hand-rammed concrete walls – each layer showing a day’s setting – all under a heavy lid of a part-cantilevered cast-concrete roof slab that appears to float above. The house’s strong, almost geological form on its exposed site, like a low-slung rock outcrop, is reminiscent of a tor in the landscape. 

2088 original

2088 original

The build has seen an intense construction and curing process for the concrete, delays on supply and installation of elements like the windows, and a complex engineering feat in terms of the structure and the integration of services throughout the concrete frame. No doubt the perfectionism of Zumthor himself in terms of the materials and finish have all added to the length of the project’s genesis, a process which has involved several UK architects, consultants and contractors. 

The horizontal form sits among several stark, wind-blown 20m-tall Monterey pines, which are all that remain of the garden of the dilapidated 1940s house that once stood on the site. Meanwhile a new garden, designed with the Rathbone Partnership, has seen the planting of 5,000 local species of trees and shrubs, and is laid out with terraces and pathways formed of rough-hewn Somerset Blue Lias stone, set on edge.

2086 original

2086 original

The house’s interiors are as materially rich as its exteriors. The rammed concrete walls remain exposed internally and contrast with pearwood timber floors. Meanwhile doors and crafted joinery for shelves, wardrobes and kitchen units are all tailor-made from apple and cherry wood. Even the furnishings – including sofas, chairs, tables and lights – are designed by Zumthor. This is crafted, slow architecture, possible when budget is deep and time not necessarily of the essence. 

2087 original

2087 original

Project data

Start on site 2012 
Completion 2018
Gross internal floor area 375m²
Construction cost Undisclosed
Architect Atelier Peter Zumthor
Executive architect (phase 1) Mole Architects
Local architectural advisor (concept phase) David Sheppard Architects
Client Living Architecture
Structural engineer Jane Wernick Associates
QS KM Dimensions
Landscape design and consultant The Rathbone Partnership
Environmental design engineers Transsolar and Integration UK
Construction management Simon Cannon 
Concrete frame Woodmace Concrete Structures 

See more Living Architecture projects in the AJ Buildings Library

15446 7206 15590 3b0ff833b180ba0c853924595430ec25

15446 7206 15590 3b0ff833b180ba0c853924595430ec25

  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • Wow, that's dissappointing.

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