24 Jun 2016

Architect builds his own sustainable home


To fulfil his long-held ambition of designing and building his own home, Heinz Richardson, an Architect at Jestico + Whiles, set about building House 19, an architecturally stunning and sustainable building, which has most recently been recognised by RIBA for the South Award.


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Located at the end of a lane that runs north from the High Street in the conservation area of Old Amersham, House 19 fuses traditional forms and local materials in an elegant and modern way to make full use of the natural aspect and orientation of the site.

The development of a simple plan and section delivered a house of exceptional quality, whilst at the same time bringing together the most comprehensive range of passive and active energy-saving features in a well-considered, thoughtful assembly of light-filled spaces, suited to 21st century living.

Timeless beauty

Acting as the Architect, the Client and Project Manager, Heinz had a very clear vision of how he wanted his home to look and function. “As part of the planning process,” explains Heinz, “my wife and I each identified 10 ideas that were to be incorporated into the house. However, the main brief was to design and build a home that was sustainable, timeless and delightful to be in.”

It was also important from the outset that the house was constructed using locally sourced materials and those which required very little or no maintenance. He describes: “Sourcing materials locally was an aspiration as well as choosing robust, low-maintenance materials for all major components.”

In terms of materials, the house is firmly rooted in the history of the area through the use of delicately dark stained vertical board cedar cladding, snapped-and-knapped luminescent flint (used for cladding and to create external walls), dark zinc roofing and accents of carefully placed corten steel. As a result, the building adopts a commanding yet respectful presence in the context of the lane and also makes a contribution to the wider community with the inclusion of a clock on the rendered chimney, to the benefit of both the players and public using the adjoining cricket ground and open space.

The architect’s expertise in, and passion for sustainable design, is evident in a combination of practical, robust, simple and deliverable design features that form the bedrock of the design approach.

Passive principles

The house was designed and constructed utilising principles of passive solar design and high thermal mass, tested airtightness and insulation levels in excess of Building Regulation requirements.

These begin with passive measures and a building form that orientates the long axis of the house in an east-west direction, thereby enabling both beneficial heat gain in winter and the exclusion of solar radiation in summer, through the judicious use of a cantilevered roof overhang above the ground floor, south-facing glass facade.

A dramatic double-height space at the heart of the plan, coupled with opening vents in the long upper level dormer window, provides opportunity for passive stack natural cooling in summer months.

Renewable systems were a key part of the specification. Heinz elaborates: “To create a sustainable, efficient build we opted to install a ground source heat pump, photovoltaic panels, earth tube ventilation system, rainwater harvesting and sustainable urban drainage. Being already familiar with these systems, I knew I could trust the quality and effectiveness of these products.”

PV panels contribute to energy generation and the whole house is heated through a ground source heat pump, which provides underfloor heating and hot water.

Other environmental features include airtight thermally heavyweight construction and triple glazed windows (in excess of current Building Regulation U-values) and an earth tube ventilation system that ensures running costs are minimised and internal conditions are as comfortable as can be. Rainwater is harvested for toilet flushing, clothes washing and garden watering and appliances have been selected for the highest rated energy efficiency available. A wild meadow garden and living roof to the single-storey garden room enhance the strong ecological value of the site.

House 19 is an exemplar of harmonious and sustainable contemporary design in the context of an ancient historic town. The location was an important factor for Heinz, as he explains: “It was vital that the property was in close proximity to the ancient town – I grew up there so I had a strong connection to the area and community.”

Expansive views

The house captures stunning and long-ranging views over the surrounding Chiltern Hills from all the upper rooms and circulation spaces and modulates daylight and sunlight in the internal areas to dramatic effect.

To enhance the light within the property and create a consistent frontage, the door chosen was a Terano E80 in an oak stained, very particular black/grey. The mixture of stainless steel and corten accessories work together to make this door look quite special.

Windows are carefully positioned to frame views to the old town and provide more expansive views to the south. The result is a tranquil and calm internal atmosphere that changes throughout the day and the seasons of the year.

The interior of the home is contemporary, with the main living area as the focus of the home. It is visually connected with the exterior garden space allowing the inside and the outside to read as one space. Heinz comments: “Views to the surrounding landscape are carefully considered, maximising the unique aspect of the site. We’ve positioned the windows to frame views to the old town and provide more expansive views to the south.”

The garden responds to the design, context and creates a sense of place. Heinz explains further: “The exterior landscaping is seen as an integral part of the house and its setting and follows the same principles as the design of the house. Formal and informal landscape treatment augments the design.

“We selected our plants by using a talented garden designer who provided design advice and help with sourcing suitable plants. However, we were conscious that we didn’t want to spend too much time maintaining the landscape, therefore hard landscaping was carefully considered and incorporated as part of the build to minimise long-term maintenance.”

Final thoughts

All in all, the project took 18 months to complete, but the biggest challenge in the process was achieving planning permission. Initially the application was refused, but permission was granted following a written appeal.

Despite the initial setback, the finished result has received an overwhelming response from the local community. Heinz explains: “The reaction of the local community has been positive. A key feature of the house includes a clock on the rendered chimney to the benefit of both the players and public using the adjoining cricket ground and open space.

“We’re really pleased with the outcome,” continues Heinz. “It is everthing we had hoped for and more. Our favourite aspect is the way our design aspirations have been translated into reality. But also, the calm atmosphere in the interior spaces.”

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