28 Jul 2015

RIBA Award-winning inspiration


The winners of the 2015 RIBA National Awards have been announced, where three self-build projects were among 37 UK buildings awarded for setting the standard for good architecture.


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The Royal Institute of British Architects National Awards have been running continuously since 1966 and are judged and presented locally. No matter the shape, size, budget or location, RIBA Award schemes set the standard for great architecture all across the country.

This year's award winners range from a beautifully-crafted wooden fishing hut on a small new estate in Hampshire and a crisp, modern malt whisky distillery inspired by the shape of a barley sheaf, to a patterned red-brick church centre in Hackney and a modest cancer care centre.

One quarter of the award winners are private homes and garden buildings. Ranging from a stone and copper-clad tiny retreat buried in a Wiltshire garden, to an architect-owned low-energy house on the edge of a Somerset village, these homes demonstrate impeccable domestic architecture design. The following pages present three innovative self-build designs that have been presented with this prestigious award.

Cliff House

One of the 37 award-winning projects is a self-build home designed by Hyde + Hyde Architects, which has been awarded the Welsh Architecture Award 2015. Cliff House is perched up high on a limestone cliff overlooking the sea where the Bristol Channel meets the Atlantic Ocean. The new home allows the homeowners to live among the ever-changing light and atmosphere of the ocean.

The building has been constructed using insulated concrete formwork, giving it a highly insulated air tight perimeter. To balance the heaviness of the building fabric, a cedar clad balcony frame has been introduced to focus on sea views, with vertical and horizontal planes creating a series of sophisticated spatial layers.

Elements of the design ensure that the building’s long-term energy performance will be exceptional – such as the air source heat pump feeding a wet under-floor heating system with whole house mechanical heat recovery ventilation. Hot water is stored in cylinder tanks assisted by solar thermal and air source heat pump.

The RIBA judges' notes say: “This collaborative project, with the client’s husband having engineered the design, has resulted in a complete yet modest piece of domestic architecture that is exemplary in both process and presence.

“It is a pleasure to walk around, to discover spatial complexities. The upside-down configuration is unforced, with a suite of three generous bedrooms and a study, all spatially unique, and with all their own direct and particular relationship to the garden. The axial view through these spaces makes everything feel connected. Externally a crisply rendered colonnade frames views and brings pace to the composition and structure to the garden.

“All of this is held in a project that is at once strong and singular, yet layered with variety. Nothing screams for attention, but nothing has been overlooked.”

Kew House

Designed by Piercy & Company Architects, this self-build sits within the Kew Green Conservation Area of southwest London. The four bedroom family house is formed of two sculptural weathering steel volumes, inserted behind a retained nineteenth century stable wall.

The brief evolved through a series of conversations between the architects and homeowners, which ranged over imagining the children running about the house, summer dinners spilling outside and the balance of quiet nooks with social spaces, to pragmatic concerns like drying laundry and how to build a boat in the basement. In response, Piercy & Company designed the house as a built diagram of the way the family wanted to use the spaces, with an internal landscape of alternative routes and levels connecting expressive spaces aimed at creating moments of delight for adults and children alike.

First and foremost a family home, the spaces are intended to be informal but rich with incidental spaces, unexpected light and complex vertical volumes.

The house is formed of a simple plan to make the most of the constrained site, reduce the building’s mass in the streetscape and respond to the living patterns of the family. Consisting of two rectangles; one slightly smaller, set back and sunken 1m lower, the wings each have living spaces on the ground floor and bedrooms above. Connecting the wings is a glass encased circulation link which allows light to pour into the house whilst providing breathing space between internal spaces.

Inside, oak veneer paneling and Dinesen flooring are the basis of a light, natural and refined palette of materials.

The judges comment: “The house is the product of an unusually close working relationship between the client - a structural engineer and boat-restorer - and the architect, both with an interest in pre-fabrication.

“The result is a bold, highly inventive and well-considered intervention in Corten steel in Kew Green Conservation Area – a neighbourhood not known for architectural adventures. The project benefitted from an extremely thoughtful process of neighbourhood consultation which satisfied local conservation and planning concerns.

“The perforated weathering steel cladding not only decorates the interior with dappled light, it is also an experimental sandwich panel roof, with insulation bonded to its underside, fully prefabricated. Gutters and chimneys are formed in the same weathering steel. It is entirely unique, avoiding reference to architectural convention.”

Dundon Passivhaus

Another self-build RIBA award-winner is Dundon Passivhaus by Prewett Bizley Architects. Set at the foot of a wooded hill, the house is designed to take best advantage of fantastic views across the Somerset levels. Different rooms relate directly to distinct areas of the garden, creating an experiential richness that extends the domain of the interior into the surrounding landscape.

The house has been built to Passivhaus standard which means it achieves very high levels of insulation and air-tightness. The wall construction is vapour permeable to moderate humidity and create a healthy internal atmosphere. A mechanical ventilation system with heat recovery provides constant fresh air throughout the colder months when it is undesirable to open the windows.

By digging the lower floor into the hillside, planning permission was gained for a two-storey house that is only marginally taller than the bungalow it replaced. Its form relates to nearby agricultural buildings rather than the suburban houses in the village.

A gently sloping roof extends beyond the building envelope on three sides to create sheltered outdoor spaces that blur the distinction between house and garden. This welcoming, sheltering gesture works in harmony with the energy strategy by providing summer shading to the large windows. Green oak posts support the roof, tied back to the main timber-framed structure which is also clad in green oak that will patinate and weather over time. Internally, the rooms are lined in planed oak or painted plywood, a more refined version of the characterful external cladding.

According to the judges' notes: “Dundon Passivhaus is an extraordinarily understated and unpretentious building set in a beautiful rural landscape.

“It is a substantially self-build project by the architect for his family’s occupation, designed and built to Passivhaus standards but with the scope to open windows as you would in any conventional building.

“Entering the house you are greeted with a forest of internal timber cladding. Large sliding folding windows ensure that every ounce of the view penetrates the space. An introverted living room has large log burners providing heating and hot water to supplement the solar thermal on the roof and a MVHR system.

“The garden houses a 4500 litre rainwater harvesting tank. The walls are super-insulated using recycled paper. The internal carpentry, joinery and other features all beautifully detailed and crafted.”

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