14 Aug 2014

Geometric suntrap


During a trip to Norway in 2012, James and Bryony Alder were inspired by the country’s strong geometric architecture. Two years later their home has undergone a drastic transformation from modest bungalow to breathtaking angular suntrap.


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The Alders' Manchester bungalow had great potential for extension thanks to its surrounding land. Inspired by the sharp-angled timber-clad properties the family saw in Norway, thorough research determined that a budget of £150,000 could turn their home into a voluminous vision of modern magnificence.

The aim was to add an open-plan space that was architecturally stunning, whilst respecting the scale of the existing house and plot. The family worked with architects Blee Halligan to create a stunning house that is a hybrid of original features and modern aesthetics.

The design dictated three interconnected, pitched volumes, facing three directions - east, west and south, capturing sunlight at different times of the day, appropriate to function: the kitchen faces east for a light-bathed breakfast and the living room faces west to catch the last of the sunlight. They each pitch up to a large double-height window, capturing views of the garden and trees.

Artez was appointed post-planning as the design and build contractor for this innovative residential project. The company project managed everything and bridged the gap between the traditional building trade and the professional property services sector by offering full turnkey solutions and design consultancy advice.

Given an eight month timeframe, the expected timings predicted by the family were made even more challenging by the fact that work was undertaken whilst they remained in residence at the property – along with the nominated client representative Maddie the cat!

Smooth sailing

From the outset, the work was not without challenges. Working within an existing property framework was often tough and the site was limited to an adjacent narrow lane, meaning that deliveries had to be coordinated extremely carefully so not to cause disruption to neighbours or overpopulate the tight site. The complicated shape of the extension was a particular challenge and the construction details were unprecedented.

Once these challenges were overcome, the team were able to develop a stunning contemporary home. The result is clear to see and what was once an unloved and cellular house has now been transformed into a family home that provides delight and spatial layout suitable for a modern family and relevant for contemporary living.

Material specification required research into the composition of Scandinavian timber clad buildings to achieve the right visual impact. One of the results that came from this research was the inclusion of Thermowood as an enhancement to improve on typical detailing. Thermowood, similar to traditional brick, is baked and makes for a more durable construction material. The extension was built as a traditional timber frame and steel structure but with the black Thermowood external timber cladding.

The new front door is insulated and replaces a single glazed door and fixed side lights. In addition, the external walls are insulated with XPS insulation and rendered, with the roof void having been highly insulated with mineral wool. A new, highly efficient, condensing boiler was installed. These upgrades have had a marked effect on energy usage.

Impressive transformation

Aside from cosmetic redesign, the majority of the front of the house remains the same. However, it is at the rear that the main construction has transformed the home. An additional 550ft2 of space was added here in the form of a timber frame with 5.5m internal intertwining volumes, giving the impression and feeling of a much larger space.

The ultimate extension had originally been envisaged by the client as a ‘glass box’ concept, but the team instead worked together to create a solid wall area, which frames views through floor-to-ceiling glazing. This also means that far higher levels of insulation were achieved.

The large picture frame windows are double glazed and used thermally broken glazing channels. These rear up to the sky and capture solar gain in the winter as it filters through the deciduous trees.

Volume and vista

Floors throughout the extension are heavy construction: a suspended beam and block floor and stone floor finish, thus acting as an efficient thermal store. In addition, an open wood fired fireplace provides heating for the main living areas.

The new extension opens out onto a re-landscaped garden. During the summer months, the mature tree shades these large windows to provide natural solar shading and thus limits overheating of the new interior.

Triptych, the finished home, is a contrast to the bungalow that it latches on to. The steep pitched roofs direct light into the extension, bouncing off the white painted timber boards to illuminate the open-plan space. Dark surfaces contrast the stark walls which are adorned with simplistic plant features, complementing the greenery seen through the double-height glazing.

Old and new are connected via a short, wooden staircase, which mirrors the chunky wood used as a porch shelter and bold front fence.

Adaptive architecture

Artez goes above and beyond the roles of other contractors by helping them not just with bricks and mortar but using its team’s professional expertise to advise them through funding, planning, project management and of course, the construction and development processes. Essentially, its founder Mike Banton is pioneering a professional practice for a changing construction sector.

Architect Blee Halligan is thrilled with the outcome: “We liked the idea that the extension would be recessive against the house and garden, which is a verdant green with mature trees and planting that accentuates its colour. The building does not fight with this garden setting. Like this extension, the most successful architecture of the future will be adaptive, flexible and resilient. It will mix fun and efficiency. It will be built to last.”

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