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Light therapy

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An introverted Victorian terrace in Cambridge has been transformed by 5th Studio to offer openness and shifting perspectives, and a therapeutic home for its client

Architect 5th Studio has exemplified the virtues of 'therapeutic architecture', taking a typical Victorian terraced house in Cambridge and transforming it by extending and reorganising the internal spaces, bringing in garden and sky views and filling the interior with light. The change in daylighting and outside contact is a dramatic but sensitive response to the needs of the female client, who suffers from ME.

As an ME sufferer, she is not alone. It is estimated that there are up to 300,000 people with ME in the UK. But it is a 'personal' illness where individuals have different mixes of symptoms. ME is also called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, though fatigue is not always rated the worst symptom by those who suffer from it. There can be problems of concentration and remembering, headaches and more. Both ME's onset and full or partial recovery, if achieved, can be prolonged, taking from months to years.

(The UK has a self-help organisation for the estimated 25 per cent who are long-term ill. ) 'Pacing and rest' are often the watchwords of self-managing the condition. But a modest-sized Victorian terrace is not the ideal place for this. A two-up, two-down, with a single-storey 1960s back addition of kitchen and bathroom, it was enclosed by its flank walls, opened directly off the pavement at the front and was largely cut off from its small rear garden by the back addition.With typical Victorian fenestration, sized as much to limit heat loss as to provide daylight, it was an introverted place during daylight hours.

On the ground floor, 5th Studio has removed the back addition and the two original downstairs rooms are now a single space with the stair open within it. Beyond to the rear is a new kitchen opening onto a highly glazed living space, which in turn opens into the garden. Not only is this living space's end wall largely glass but so too is its butterfly roof - even the gutter is a glass trough.

Upstairs, the former rear bedroom is now a bathroom, with a new bedroom built over the kitchen.

It is the three-dimensionality of these moves that makes them special, reaching towards the outdoors. This is evident enough for the new glazed garden room and the borrowed light that it brings to the new kitchen, and in the new bedroom's bay window seat overlooking the garden. But there is more, as the section shows.

Daylight now comes to the heart of the house. The upper ceiling has been removed and the pitched roof lined, increasing spaciousness and allowing rooflights discreetly set on the rear roof plane to light the bathroom, landing and front bedroom (used as an office). The first-floor landing is now floored in glass, letting daylight through and providing views from the seating in the main living room below, up via this glass flooring to the rooflights and to the rear bedroom window.

Walls and ceilings are white, not just improving daylight penetration but drawing the eye to the shifting layered planes and articulating new volumes as you move about the house, offering subtle colour shifts in direct and inter-reflected light.

Not surprisingly, the architect had to be very hands-on in interpreting this design and its detailing to the small local builder, within a tight budget.

Often the radical transformation of older houses involves gutting them and inserting a new order of spaces. Here, the transformation in atmosphere is no less radical but the architect has respected the original building.

This is still recognisably an inner city terraced house, albeit extended.

What has gone is its Victorian introversion and one-paced scale of rooms.

Perspectives now shift. The client can 'be' outside, though often in practice housebound. A therapeutic architecture, indeed.


TENDER DATE December 2001





TOTAL COST £45,395

ARCHITECT 5th Studio: Tom Holbrook, Oliver Smith, Jay Gort

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Phillip Cooper Harris and Sutherland (now Cameron Taylor Bedford)

MAIN CONTRACTOR Alder and Andrews

SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS Glass Solaglas; glass landing Pilkington; glass channel Daylight Insulation; roofing Tanner and Hall; electrics Premier; joinery Eversden; seals Metro Seals; radiators


5th Studio www.5thstudio. co. uk Cameron Taylor Bedford www. camerontaylor. co. uk

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