East facade from across the street
Detail of living room balcony
Front east facade
Green oak structure
Looking towards kitchen/ dining room from the sunken garden
Double height staircase with rooflight and white glass wall
Translucent glazing at top of stair
West facing rear facade
Living room balcony
View from south
‘The corrugations of shadows in a cornice surrounding a window formally solidify the edges and cut the void with great vehemence. Moldings quieten or exalt single elements in service of an ideal structure governing the entire architectural representation. By raising up, corrugating, and condensing the surfaces, they reveal the structure.’
The Value of Mouldings, Luigi Moretti
A new 3-story house sits between two tall 'Georgian', early 19th century terraces in East London. It comprises of a sunken ground floor sat within a walled garden that is made of white bricks. Two timber storeys are cantilevered over this 'garden wall'. Our clients have another house in California where they live for half the year. He is a carpenter turned developer, whilst she is a folk music journalist. Their children have grown up and left home. Our brief was to create a house for entertaining and for it to be made of an exposed, unseasoned, ‘Green Oak’ frame.
Approaching from Dalston Lane to the north, the blank end-of-terrace gable is embellished with a balcony that peels away from the facade like a raised eyebrow, inviting you upwards to come within. The house is conceived of as an excavated well - an inhabited foundation - with a filigree skeleton - a bird's nest - sat upon it. In the sunken garden you can only see the sky. At the sunken ground floor you find a kitchen and a glass-roofed dining room that opens onto a dark-blue brick paved garden court. The inside and outside spaces feel like 'garden rooms', connected to each other by your movements from cooking to eating, just as the sun tracks across the site throughout the day. You feel slightly submerged in the garden. The house above is reflected in a pond, and as you look up through the glass roof of the dining room it appears as if you are underwater. This feeling of spatial compression and submersion eases as the staircase uncoils, rising from the thick ground up to the sun light that falls filtered through the exposed oak frame. Two east- facing bedrooms are found at 1st floor.
The balcony and windows are framed with projecting oak reveals that mimic the stone window moldings of the neighbouring terrace. Ventilation is provided via hinged oak panels. The southwest corner is lined with translucent white glass panels that are dappled by shadows of the neighbouring trees on sunny afternoons. Vertical oak boards make this quite squat little house appear slender and tall Ascending to the grand upper floor you pass through a double height landing that is lined, like a cigar box, in paper-thin oak panels. They step back as you brush past, revealing the oak frame to be as thick and as deep as a torso, spaced as far apart as your shoulders. Set out at 600mm centres, the space between columns can be walked into, setting up shadows that blur your peripheral vision, and extending the small spaces phenomenally.
The green oak frame was fabricated in Kent, east England, using traditional ‘Tree Nails’ rather than steel bolts. Tree Nails expand and contract with the column and beam joints, and unlike steel bolts they do not damage the structural ‘moment connections’, i.e. they don’t weaken the structural fixity. Throughout, joints are exposed, and so in order to satisfy fire regulations, the structure at 1st floor is over-sized to allow for a ‘char-factor’, so that the outer layer of the oak is sacrificial and can burn away without affecting the structural integrity of the columns and beams. The generosity of vertical spaces within the house belies the tight site restrictions, and this quite small house seems to expand in one’s memory. Drawn towards the balcony, you see out across neighbouring gardens and the horizon is visible at last. Stepping out to take in the view, you inhabit a deep threshold and feel part of the drama of the city.