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The architect's tale

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After a long search, the client acquired a site which had planning permission for an unexceptional house of limited accommodation and of 'traditional'appearance.

Our initial discussions with the client concerned the need for an alternative dwelling; one which would provide a modern solution to the sloping north-facing site with enough space for the family, while not gratuitously increasing the size of the permitted plot. The new house would have to provide plenty of room(s), and open plan areas, with sufficient privacy and acoustic isolation to suit the family's music-making talents. It had to make the best of north-facing views while remaining energy efficient and admitting as much sunlight as possible.

These apparently contradictory requirements were met by digging into the hillside to create a sound shielded basement and split level section.The rooflights allow sunlight deep into the plan and the living room is set down half a level from the entrance to become 1 1/2 storeys high with direct access to the garden at the rear.On the first floor, the north-facing main bedrooms have good views and balconies large enough to move a bed onto, while still getting sunlight from south-facing high-level windows.

Areas below ground are concrete and masonry to provide a stabilising 'heat sink'. On this structure sits a large section timber frame which not only looks good but provides rhythm and structural expression, as well as achieving the long spans needed for the open plan. The Douglas fir is mostly enclosed by a non-structural, breathable wall of insulated studding.

The resulting design is lower in profile than the original one which had obtained planning approval, and our designs were supported by discerning local planners. The building should have low energy use, incorporating high levels of insulation and underfloor heating coupled with an efficient condensing boiler. To make the most of the views the house has greater than ideal areas of northfacing glazing, although these are high performance Danish softwood units with argon-filled Low-E glazing. South lights have been placed to make the most of available sunlight.

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