In an area of designated Ancient Woodland bordering Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, Smerin Architects has created a new build house for a private client set into a hillside overlooking a stream and the Wealden farmland beyond. The surrounding area has the distinctive mix of rolling hills draped by a mosaic of irregularly shaped fields between pockets of woodland that characterises the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which it forms part of. The 22 acre woodland known as Sweethaws Wood, follows the line of a classic Wealden gulley or ghyll running southwards between open farmland. The southern end of Sweethaws Wood was cleared in the 1920's by the then owners and a house built for their use as a summer residence. A weir was also constructed to slow the flow of the existing stream running down the ghyll forming an ornamental pool and the cleared area planted with a variety of non-native shrubs in the manner of a typical ornamental suburban garden. The original summerhouse was not architecturally distinguished or characteristic of the Wealden area and by the time the Client acquired the site in 2009 had been much altered and was fairly dilapidated. The surrounding garden was also overgrown and the woodland itself with its mix of fine beech, oak and sweet chestnut trees had suffered years of neglect.
The Client's brief was to design a new family house for them and their four children to use to replace the existing summer house on the site that was practical to live in, easy to run, related well to its woodland setting and was energy efficient. The local planning authority whilst happy with a contemporary approach to the new house also stipulated that it should be no higher than the ridge of the existing house, be situated where that house was and have an area no more than 50% bigger. Smerin Architects proposed strategy for this new house for all seasons was based on a number of key principles. To preserve and enhance the natural qualities of the site, to sit well within the landscape when seen from afar, to maximise the views and southerly orientation of the site and to create a house that was both environmentally responsive at a holistic level and environmentally responsible in the choice of materials and construction. As such it would meet both the Client's and the local planners aspiration for a house that was of high quality and an honest product of its time in contrast to the poor quality pastiche period architecture favoured by local developers.
The new house is conceived as a simple linear block, echoing the form and proportion of traditional rural buildings. Arranged over three levels the main living spaces, accessed from the gravel driveway via a folded steel plate bridge, occupy the middle floor and lead out to a generous verandah hung from and sheltered by the overhanging roof on two sides. Solid oak stairs machined from timber from the woods and cantilevered from the supporting concrete walls lead either up to the bedroom floor or down to a strip of utility spaces and through to a swimming pool room whose sliding glass wall opens up to the adjoining covered terrace and surrounding meadow. The lower ground floor sits almost entirely within the footprint of the original house so as to minimise disturbance to the site with the two upper floors extending beyond. The linear form allows all parts of the house to benefit from views westwards over the stream and pool and take advantage of the southerly orientation through generously proportioned glazed areas. The roof overhang provides shade from high summer sun to avoid overheating whilst admitting low winter sun to provide free warming and daylighting and the overhang also provides shelter from the rain enabling the verandah space with its glazed sliding doors concealed in pockets behind the cladding to be used for much of the year. The solidity of the house as it faces the woodland to the other three sides is broken by a series of glazed openings that provide vertically framed views of the treescape. Locals glimpsing the house from the nearby road as they pass by or visitors approaching the house up the driveway are met by the sight of the upper two floors cantilevering out without any evident support as the site drops away towards the stream adding an element of drama to the otherwise sylvan setting.
Construction and Materials
Internally the in-situ concrete walls, precast concrete panel soffits and steelwork beams of the structure are honestly expressed and complemented by power-floated concrete flooring, limited areas of painted drylining and joinery items purpose made in oak veneered plywood with an oiled finish. The slender stainless steel rods that support the edge of the verandah from the roof overhang above both define the extent of the verandah and provide support for the stainless steel box section handrail that appears to float along the edge. Externally glazed areas are set within timber cladding to the elevations on three sides with the in-situ concrete walls to the lower level inside and out having a vertical board-marked finish that mimics the vertical boarding of the timber cladding above. The fourth side overlooking the driveway is clad in corten steel panels whose oxidised surface echoes the autumnal hue of the trees around and timber cladding adjacent. The rusted finish also provides a subtle reference to the Weald's historic role as the main iron-producing region in Britain from pre-Roman times until the early 1800's. As well as having environmental benefits the use of a sedum planted green roof also provides a natural surface to the roof when seen from afar that has a similar appearance to the mossy grass of the surrounding woodland floor. Although clearly contemporary this palette of materials and the pared back aesthetic used also recalls the honest quality of the agricultural buildings around making the new house a distinctive but appropriate addition to the rural landscape which it now forms a visible part of.
The strategy for the landscape was also a key aspect of the project. In tandem with the construction of the new house the non-native shrub planting in the surrounding former garden area has been removed and that on the banks of the stream thinned out. The grass-banked areas immediately adjacent to the house have been reinstated with meadow grass seeded with wildflowers as a continuation of the meadow area between the house and the pool. Overall the intention is to give the area around the house a more naturalistic quality akin to a clearing in typical Wealden woodland. Although not affected by the construction of the original house in the 1920's the adjoining woodland area had been blighted by a lack of appropriate husbandry and woodland management for many years and still suffered from the effects of tree falls that occurred in the 1987 storm. To address this the Client commissioned a specialist woodland assessment and management plan to rejuvenate the woodland area, with dead trees and the dense undergrowth that was choking much of the woodland progressively being removed and the necessary tree works carried out to the many mature trees in the vicinity of the house. This will aid the natural regeneration of the woodland and ensure its long-term silvicultural health. At the top of the hill just above the house a croquet lawn that was first laid out in the 1920's has also been restored as a quirky reminder of the site's earlier life. At the end of the driveway, some way from the house, the existing garage has also been rebuilt. The new garage accommodates not only vehicle and machinery storage but also a tool room and a guest suite above. A simple timber framed structure has been used with the same timber cladding and flush triple glazed windows as the house. Slates from the original summerhouse have been re-used on the roof along with two salvaged rooflights.
The organisation and construction of the house also addresses the Client's desire to build a house that as well as being architecturally distinguished is as environmentally sustainable and responsive as is practically possible. This manifests itself in a number of ways ranging from the passive aspects of the layout, construction and materials used in the house to the choice of active environmental services systems incorporated into it. The choice of a predominantly linear form with a series of large glazed openings facing south west coupled with the use of a heavyweight concrete structure to the lower portion allows passive solar gain to be maximised during winter months. The high thermal mass of a reinforced concrete structure allows it to act as a temperature stabiliser moderating temperature fluctuations by slowing down heat gain in the summer and limiting heat loss in the winter. This is helped by the extent to which the house is set partially below ground level. The use of concrete as a structure and finish to some areas internally, when sourced from a local plant that utilises a proportion of recycled material or blast-furnace waste, helps minimise the embodied energy in the envelope of the house. The steelwork frame that supports the cantilevered part of the house can be recycled as well as giving the upper floors of the house their dramatic floating quality. All the materials specified were carefully audited to ensure they have zero ozone depletion potential and where possible are environmentally passive in manufacture and use. Natural materials utilised such as the external timber cladding were specified from sustainable sources and suppliers with the appropriate accreditation. External glazing units are high performance double or triple glazed and have a low emissivity thermal coating to the inside of the cavity to assist in reducing their U-Value. All elements of the external envelope of the house were carefully detailed and the execution monitored on site to help ensure that air leakage and hence heat loss from the house is kept to a minimum. The sedum planted green roof covering has a number of environmental benefits. The dense planted layer shades the roof reducing solar gain and water absorbed by the plants cools the roof as it evaporates. It also helps reduce the amount of site water run-off and creates an additional ecological habitat.
Energy Saving Systems
As well as passive design measures that seek to reduce the energy consumption of the house and hence its contribution to carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere through its layout and construction, the house also incorporate a number of active energy saving systems to further minimise its consumption of energy. A whole house ventilation system with a heat recovery unit has been installed to capture heat from the warm waste air in the house and return it to the incoming fresh air if appropriate. The roof has an array of photovoltaic panels to generate electricity for the house during periods of the day with excess power exported back to the national electricity grid. It also has an array of solar thermal panels to supply pre-warmed water to the heating systems of both the house and swimming pool. Internally a low temperature hot water underfloor heating system is used in conjunction with the areas of thermal mass in the house to maintain comfortable conditions with minimised energy usage. Hot water to this is supplied by a conventional LPG powered boiler but an insulated pipework link has been run to the new detached garage that has been sized to allow a wood chip boiler and pellet store to be added at some future date when the surrounding woodland can supply sufficient new timber to make wood chips. An existing well next to the house has also been used to supply grey water to the garage. The organisation of the house is such that all areas benefit from good levels of natural light that reduces the need for artificial lighting during daylight hours. Artificial lighting maximises the use of low energy fittings with low wattage fluorescent or LED lamps being used. External lighting is limited and avoids creating excessive light levels or light disturbance to neighbouring properties and the woodland. All lighting internally and externally is linked to a central lighting control system which can programmed with a variety of lighting patterns for use throughout the day and night to help minimise artificial lighting whilst maintaining comfortable conditions. The lighting control system is in turn linked to a simple building management system that brings together all the active systems in the house. The building management system monitors environmental conditions via sensors internally and externally and activates the appropriate system in response to changes within the house or the external conditions. As well as being programmable the system also has a degree of intelligence and is able to optimise conditions whilst minimising energy use. The completed house has achieved the Client's target of Level 4 of the Code for Sustainable Homes.
Minimising the maintenance requirements of the house has also been a factor in its design. As well as auditing materials and finishes for their environmental properties, the house has been constructed from materials with a long inherent maintenance free life. The oxidised steel cladding and areas of fairfaced concrete need virtually no maintenance. Glazing and metalwork items are self-finished or factory coated and apart from periodic cleaning should have a maintenance free life in excess of 30 years. The timber cladding is heat treated for durability and will weather naturally without requiring specific maintenance. The sedum covering to the roof helps in protecting the roof membrane from degradation due to exposure to sunlight, increasing its useful life.
Architect: Smerin Architects
Floor Area House: 345 sqm/3,700 sqft
Floor Area Garage: 120 sqm/1,300 sqft
House and Garage Construction Cost: £2,500 sqm/£230 sqft
Quantity Surveyor: AB Associates
Structural Engineer: Lyons O'Neill
Building Services Engineer/Sustainability Consultant: Mendick Waring
Lighting Design: Light Tecnica
Main Contractor: Client self-build
Structural Steelwork: Southern Fabrications
Precast Concrete: Hanson
Carpentry/Timber Cladding: Hammerwood
Roofing: Williams Roofing
Metal Cladding: Brandclad
Glazing: IQ Glass/Ide Contracting
Windows: Ormonde Joinery
Concrete Flooring: Lazenby
Internal Finishing: Johnson Friel
Garage: Anson Timberworks
Building Services: Enevis
Swimming Pool: Buckingham Pools
Joinery: Joe Mellows Furniture
Kitchen: Kitchen Coordination
Inclusive Design and Accessibility
With the Client's children ranging in age from two to mid teens and an extended family likely to be frequent visitors to enjoy the unique setting, the new house needed to be accessible to all and able to accommodate and delight a wide range of ages. The house was designed to be in accordance with the 16 Design Criteria from Lifetime Homes. There is easy access for wheelchair bound users from parking spaces on the driveway next to the house to the upper ground floor main entrance via the bridge which incorporates a concealed lighting strip and to the sheltered lower ground floor level garden entrance via the natural profile of the site. Thresholds from inside to out in all areas are level and doorways to the lower two floors are generous and have sliding pocket doors to allow free movement in and around the house. Although both floors are carefully arranged to accommodate the various activities of family life including an internal and external shower area, each is in effect an open plan space that with a seamless floor finish can be navigated with ease by young and old alike. The use of fairfaced concrete walls in many areas as well as being an honest expression of the structure and giving the interiors a tactile quality also means a stair lift can be installed to the main stairs or support rails added to walls if needed. Similarly the concrete floor structure can accommodate additional partition walls if any areas need to be segregated in the future. One end of the living area has been planned to act if needs be as a spare or temporary bedroom area and a position has been identified for a platform lift to be added to serve the master bedroom. The use of drylined partitions between each of the bedrooms to the first floor allows them to be rearranged at a future date or linked together as in the case of two of the bedrooms. The main bathroom has a freestanding bath and walk-in shower making it easy to use by mobility impaired users. Lighting throughout the house is controlled by a central lighting control system that can be programmed to allow all the lighting to be activated from a remote handset and also from a series of wireless switches positioned throughout the house. Being wireless this enables their positions to be readily changed. A simple building management system brings together all the active systems in the house and can be controlled by a remote handset or from a desktop monitor in the study space.
Beyond the formal requirements of Lifetime Homes the design of the house has sought has to make it easy and enjoyable to use by all. The main living areas to the upper ground floor have been laid out so that different activities can take place simultaneously without causing interference with people able to enjoy cooking or sitting round the wood burning stove at one end of the space whilst others are watching television at the opposite end. Whilst the interior spaces have been designed to be as open as possible, the walls enclosing those spaces have been carefully fashioned to respond to the needs of the spaces whether by framing views of the landscape around or housing or supporting built-in storage units to cater for the varying needs of family life. The first floor landing area in particular is intended to act as more than a circulation space leading to the bedrooms with built-in bookshelving at each end and a series of seating units set into niches below the windows providing somewhere for the children to curl up with a book or play with their toys on days when it is too wet to go outside. Similarly the overhanging roof sheltering the verandah allows outdoor living to carry on in spite of the vagaries of the weather. The verandah also includes a raised balcony space off two of the bedrooms enabling the older children to have their own private outdoor space. In return the adults have their own secret wine cooler box hidden under the lid of the seating niche located below. ???????
Although only a private house the design has needed to respond to wider issues beyond the immediate requirements of the Client. The woodland in which it is set is designated as Ancient Woodland and borders Ashdown Forest as well as forming part of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Both the design of the new house and the works to the surrounding landscape have had to be consistent with the Vision for Settlement contained within the High Weald AONB Plan and its objective to enhance the architectural quality of the High Weald through the better design of buildings. During the development of the scheme the proposals were discussed with Wealden District Council's Development Management team to help ensure that all issues relating to the site and the setting of the house were fully understood. As well as scrutinising the proposals carefully the planners hoped that the new house might be an example of good quality contemporary housing set on a sensitive site. The Client also made an informal presentation of the proposals to the owners of the neighbouring properties in the vicinity without any adverse comments about the proposals. Construction of the house was largely managed directly by the Client who was able to employ a number of specialist contractors from the local area on various aspects of the project. With the exception of the triple glazed windows to one elevation that came from Denmark all other elements of the structure and enclosure of the house were fabricated in or installed by contractors from Sussex or the south east with many site tradespeople living either in neighbouring towns. Similarly a local firm carried out the landscape works and a woodsman who lives nearby has been employed to help look after the woodland.
Whilst the house is screened from view from certain directions when the woodland is in leaf the landscape works have opened up the site revealing the house to the wider world. Whether locals glimpsing the house from the roads around the immediate area as they pass by or the many visitors who come to walk the network of footpaths that crisscross the wider High Weald area, the new house is a distinctive but appropriate addition to the rural landscape which it now forms a visible part of. The reaction from locals and visitors alike has been very positive. As well as creating a distinctive new house that might inspire others, the project has also benefitted the wider area through the rejuvenation of the woodland whose long-term health has now been ensured.
In an area of designated Ancient Woodland bordering Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, Smerin Architects has created a new build house for a private client set into a hillside overlooking a stream and the Wealden farmland beyond. The surrounding area has the distinctive mix of rolling hills draped by a mosaic of irregularly shaped fields between pockets of woodland that characterises the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which it forms part of. The 22 acre woodland known as Sweethaws Wood, follows the line of a classic Wealden gulley or ghyll running southwards between open farmland. The…
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|Location||East Sussex, United Kingdom|
|Program Type||Private House|
|Year||Build completed in the year 2013|
|Consultants||Mendick Waring Consulting Engineers|
|Contractors||Southern Fabrications (Sussex)|
|Contractors||IQ Glass UK|
|Contractors||Ide Contracting Ltd|
|Contractors||Ormonde Joinery Products|
|Contractors||Johnson Friel Building|
|Contractors||Joe Mellows Furniture|
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