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RetroFirst stories: Napier Clarke on how it reworked an ‘uninspiring’ 1970s rural home

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The latest in a new AJ series looking at architects who have saved buildings from the bulldozers or brought them back from the brink of ruin

With up to 40 per cent of carbon emissions coming from the construction industry, the profession needs to find ways of adapting the type of buildings it designs, and fast.

In order to tackle the climate crisis, the default – and less carbon-hungry – option for any project should be to adapt and reuse an existing building, one of the key demands of the AJ’s RetroFirst campaign.

With the spotlight on retrofit, our recently launched series seeks to celebrate the projects that save buildings from ruin or demolition and to hear from the architects that designed them.

Today, Steven Clarke of husband-and-wife-led practice Napier Clarke explains how they used the bone structure of a dated 1970s house in rural Buckinghamshire to create a ‘contextual, contemporary family home’.

Napier clarke retrofirst crop

Napier clarke retrofirst crop

Tell us about the project?

Samarkand is located in Little Kingshill, just on the outskirts of Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, known for being the home of Roald Dahl. The 270m², four-bedroom house stands alone on a 0.2ha site. The existing brick house had been extended with a light grey plastic gable.

The developed brief was to create a contextual, contemporary family home that would help to prolong the design life of the existing 1970s house. The footprint would remain the same but additional floor area would be gained by occupying the garage and reconfiguring the internal spaces in a more efficient way.

We saved a lot of money by keeping the existing house

We wanted to create a house with more clarity of form, so we relocated the entrance so it was between the brick and gable building, creating a glass link entrance. We also removed the section of roof between the gable and existing brick house, creating two distinct forms: one remaining as the original reclaimed London brick; the other being clad in charred timber.

The client would prefer to keep the costs private, but I can confirm we saved a lot of money by conserving the existing building.

Had demolition ever been considered?

Yes. As with many of our residential projects, we are often asked: ‘should we knock down and start again or can we work with what we have?’ Each project is different and so is each answer, but for this project we really believed we could work with the original.

How did you convince the client not to flatten the building?

The client was keen to retain the existing if it was more cost-effective than rebuilding and if we truly believed we could create an inspiring piece of architecture. The client also has an environmental conscience and was keen to explore this route, recognising the sustainable benefits of doing so.

The choices made were a combined effort between us and the client

However, this was a small project; we didn’t have a services engineer or an environmental designer and so the choices made were a combined effort between client and architect.

What were the challenges of the existing building?

The existing 1970s house was a pretty uninspiring, poorly extended building that had not been updated for about 30 years. It is located in Green Belt, but because we were not extending it, this was not a major issue. However, it is also in the Chiltern Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which states that any ‘proposal should conserve, where practicable and appropriate and also enhance’. So we needed demonstrate to the local planning authority that the new materials and design would conserve, contextualise and enhance.

Aside from retaining the original fabric, what other aspects of your design reduce the building’s whole-life carbon impact?

We insulated the ground floor, first floor and roof to reduce thermal loss. We changed all of the windows and doors from single glazed to Velfac double glazed and we replaced the heating system with underfloor heating at ground floor and radiators on the first floor, improving the efficiency of the heating. We replaced the existing plastic gable end, insulated the gable end building and cloaked it with charred timber cladding.

Were the planners supportive of the proposals?

Yes, the planners were supportive throughout the pre-application and planning application process.

What have been the main lessons from the project that you could apply to other developments?

1970s/80s houses are plentiful around the country. We wondered if there was a huge opportunity to improve the design life of many of these by applying a similar process as this project?

Napier clarke plans comparison

Napier clarke plans comparison


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