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Summer extension: half-room, half-pergola by David Leech Architects

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A gently expressive garden room in Dublin is given character by a simple crosshatch timber joist ceiling-cum-pergola

Standard timber joists at 600mm spacings cross in both directions to allow for a free span between two rendered blockwork cavity walls. The timber beams, slightly exposed to create a shallow coffer, sit on shallow pilasters formed where the blockwork is turned through 90 degrees to provide lateral restraint and give a subtle relief to the bearing walls.

Colour and polychromy are used to articulate the rhythm of the ceiling to add richness, depth and atmosphere.

The original window opening to the back room has been enlarged to create a generous connection between a new kitchen and family room. The kitchen counter and cupboards are constructed with green through-coloured Valchromat MDF accented by a polished marble countertop.

Drainage access is concealed in a small carpet of polished marble tiles embedded in a struck in situ concrete floor, left unpolished. 

The plant and utility spaces are located in an outhouse in the garden, connected by a wall to the main house. The rhythm of the pilasters is continued along this extended wall which frames a new garden court. Five columns, reflecting the same rhythm, hold the cross-joisted ceiling structure, here fully exposed to form a new open pergola.

Conservatory room 22 st brigids road 03

Conservatory room 22 st brigids road 03

Source: Joseph Carr

Architect’s view

Working to a limited budget, we proposed to work where possible with ‘off the shelf’ components. Where elements needed to be put together on site like blockwork and timber joists, we put more effort into the design and elaboration of these assemblies to generate a character and atmosphere for the house. All doors, rooflights and the double-glazed units are proprietary. The standard rooflight sizes therefore set out the module and spacing for the timber beams, which dictates the position of the piers and finally the proportion of the new room.

Everyday construction techniques and materials were chosen driven by a desire for efficiency – to design cost-effectively and economically. These inexpensive materials are easily sourced, and importantly, knowledgeable for the tradesmen and local builders.

We believe that a rich architecture does not necessarily mean an expensive architecture. Researching the architecture of the Arts and Crafts movement we  realised that what has happened over the last century, with the reversal of expenditure in construction works from material to labour costs, means a highly crafted architecture is beyond most everyday budgets due to the increased cost of labour and decreased access to affordable skilled makers.

Conservatory room 22 st brigids road 02

Conservatory room 22 st brigids road 02

However taking inspiration from the arts side of this movement, this house focuses on the traditional meaning of the applied arts and translates it into the contemporary setting – using design and assembly to enhance character and atmosphere where the construction and material costs would exclude. We call this approach ‘richly economical’.

Through detailed design resolution and ample allowance for construction tolerances we have used linings, skirting, plaster and paint to build in a design robustness allowing for a cheaper build on site.

Artists and photographers like Richard Wentworth, Fischli & Weiss, Lewis Baltz and Thomas Struth are heroes of the office. They show that how through simple manipulation and re-evaluation sometimes the ordinary can be transformed into the extraordinary.

The design was progressed through line drawing, perspectival and projected, and large scale 1:10 paper and card modelling to replicate daylight, material and texture.

Conservatory room drawing 01 plan copy

Conservatory room drawing 01 plan copy

Ground floor plan

Project data

Start on site March 2017
Completion January 2018
Gross floor area 42.5m² (internal) 62.5m² (internal & external)
Form of contract or procurement route Traditional 
Construction cost €57,000
Construction cost per m2 €1,341
Architect David Leech Architects 
Client Nathy Groarke & Vivienne Bates 
Landscape consultant Maria Canavan
Main contractor Roche Boland Construction

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