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A natural response

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Future Systems' new house in the Pembrokeshire national park merges into its site to appear a natural part of the landscape

The design of Future Systems' latest house is a response to the unique qualities of its site - a remote and rocky hillside on the Welsh coast looking out towards the Atlantic. Isolated and unspoilt, it is part of the Pembrokeshire Coastal National Park. The new house was only permitted because it replaced an existing building on the site. The new house is for Bob and Gill Marshall-Andrews, an MP and an educationalist respectively, who want to use it as a family retreat and, in the future, as a permanent home.

The site was the driving influence - in the architect's words, 'our objective was to minimise the visual impact of the building and to site it in a way that makes the house appear a natural part of the landscape'. The 'soft' organic form of the building merges imperceptibly into the rugged grass and gorse landscape; it is cut into the site, the ground is banked up on both sides and both roof and banks are covered with local turf. It can hardly be seen, except on the west, seaward, side which is a curved glass wall. The surrounding landscape has no visible boundaries or garden, reinforcing the natural setting of the house in the landscape.

In plan it is a simple, single-storey ellipse, tapering at the ends like the segment of an orange.

The arrangment is open and informal to reflect the lifestyle of the client. The main living area in the centre has a raised plinth of seating around a logburning fire. The two bedrooms are set in the tapered ends of the form, and are divided from the living area by freestanding 'pods'. Tear-shaped in plan, the pods house two bathrooms, kitchen and all services without touching the roof so that the space can be perceived as a totality.

The house has a concrete sub-floor and blockwork retaining walls braced with concrete columns at 1800mm centres. The infill blockwork is lined with insulation and a double layer of waterproofing, and the entire sub-structure is surrounded by curved earth banks.

A 120mm-diameter CHS steel ring beam runs on top of the blockwork walls; it follows the elliptical shape of the house and varies in height from 2.4-3.1m above floor level.

The ring beam supports the roof, a stressed skin of two double layers of ply with ribs which extend from the front of the house to the back, infilled with insulation. Its edges rest on hardwood fillets which are bolted to cleats welded to the ring beam. On the glazed west side of the house, the ring beam is supported by 75mm-diameter columns set in the tapered ends of the two prefabricated pods.

The roof is covered in 80mm thickness of coastal fescue turf, laid on a filter fleece and egg-crate reservoir membrane which acts with a simple irrigation system to prevent it drying out in summer. A doublelayer membrane below it drains to gulleys.

The east entrance wall is glazed, and the 19m-wide glazed west wall of the house faces the Atlantic and follows a curved profile around the edges, set in a stainless-steel channel (marine grade 316 to resist winddriven salt spray). The wall consists of 28mm frameless double-glazed units, 1500mm wide, set in 38 x 40mm T-sections; they are fixed to 50 x 12mm steel mullions which run along the inside face of the wall. The mullion heads are notched to the ring beam and their bases are fixed to a steel sill plate.

The bathroom/service pods were prefabricated in London to a customised factory-finished quality which would have been difficult to achieve on this remote and isolated site. They are constructed of curved ribbed 6mm MDF and finished in bright yellow acid-catalysed lacquer.

The curved MDF doors, services and appliances were installed before they left the workshop. The pods were loaded on to trucks and lifted on to site by crane.

CREDITS ARCHITECT Future Systems: Jonathan Clark, Jan Kaplicky, Amanda Levete, Simon Mitchell, Angus Pond

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Techniker: Matthew Wells

SERVICES ENGINEER BDSP Partnership: Klaus Bode, Adrian James, John Perry

MAIN CONTRACTOR Young Construction

SUPPLIERS glazing Compass Glass & Glazing, kitchen and bathroom pods The Splinter Group, turf roof S C Welch (subcontractor) and Index Building Products, prefabricated roof ribs Marshall's Joinery

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