Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.
The Sett in Totland, Isle of Wight by Dow Jones Architects
September 10th, 2014 by Sumit Singhal
Article source: Dow Jones Architects
The house is located on Uplands Road, on the eastern edge of the village of Totland.
Uplands Road is a small lane on a hill above the village, and the site itself originally formed part of the grounds of a large house built in 1924, with extensive gardens overlooking the sea. The site for the Sett was the orchard and is enclosed by mature trees, with apple, pear, plum, greengage and medlar trees growing across it.
Retaining the sense of enclosure within the site, while bringing a view of the sea from the upper floor, and responding to the particular placement of the remaining fruit trees have generated the placement of rooms and spaces on the site. The trees around the site perimeter are tall and established species including oak, beech, yew and alder, and the house is placed towards the eastern edge of the site along the lane, making a small courtyard in front of the house between the taller trees and the two-storey section part of the house, marking the place of arrival. Further into the site, the house extends as a series of single-storey rooms which are placed around an apple tree and which open up into different parts of the garden. The colonnaded verandas around the house extend the treed character of the site.
The house is a home for a family of four, with a study for both parents, one a journalist and the other a graphic designer and architectural theorist. One of our concerns was to make spaces which respond to all the different parts of family life, both in terms of connecting and holding together as well as providing places to withdraw. We felt that making generous thresholds in between spaces both inside and out would extend the building beyond the limits of a modest budget, and make a spatial generosity for daily life.
The ground floor plan wraps around an apple tree, drawing the landscape into the house, and projecting spaces extend the connections between inside and out. Roof canopies create verandas around the house, making sheltered places to sit at different times of day: one at the entrance courtyard which makes a place to arrive, wrapping around the kitchen to make a sheltered space on the south side for eating, and from the living room, overlooking the garden, for evening light. Defining a relationship between the different spaces of the house and of the site establishes a spatial order as well as a way of inhabiting the field of the site, and is apparent both in the form of the building, its placement on the site, and in its making. The house sits on a concrete floor which marks the placement of the house onto the ground, and extends out into the garden spaces and verandas to make steps and thresholds. The polished concrete floor is hand trowelled in bays responding to the interplay of spaces, both defining the rooms and connecting them together. Similarly, the extension of views through the apple tree courtyard and the study beyond into the garden create deep spaces which, both define and connect, and it is through the awareness of boundaries that the depth and interconnection of the different spaces are apparent.
At the centre of the house is the chimney, which forms an axis mundi to both holds together and defines the different living spaces. The spaces are structured around views out and the passage of the day around the house, so that the kitchen faces east so as to be lit through the morning, the living room faces south, and the dining room table faces west to be lit in the evening. The chimney and brick footings are brickwork bagged with a concrete slurry so that the coursing of the brick is discerned but there is an overriding material unity with the concrete of the ground. The timber structure of the house sits upon and around the structure of the concrete ground and the chimney.
The bedrooms upstairs open onto a large south-facing landing overlooking the garden and bringing a view over the encircling trees to the sea, a counterpoint to the containment of the ground floor of the house within the trees. It provides a space for the children to play, and a place to look beyond to the wider horizon.
The house is constructed entirely from timber using a prefabricated timber frame system from Sydenhams, providing a cost-efficient method of building floor and wall panels which are then clad in larch boarding. Larch is highly resinous and durable, and frequently used to clad buildings in Austria, the client’s native country. The boards are butt jointed, with lengths corresponding to storey heights, and with the ends of upper boards lapping over lower boards to emphasise their thickness as well as the different heights and layers of the building form.
Externally, all the timber – boarding, windows and doors, and veranda columns – are painted with a thick bituminous paint used to protect boats, providing a unifying black coating which does not mask the grain of the timber, and when it catches the light is slightly reflective. The boarding is capped with a patinated zinc flashing. The windows and glass sit flush with the face of the boarding, becoming highly reflective, and bringing a tautness to the externalskin of the building against which depths and recesses are formed with the lapping of boards, the recesses of the ventilation shutters, and the depths of the verandas.
Internally, the sapele windows and doors are waxed, providing a rich and resinous contrast to the muteness of the external bitumen. Douglas fir triboard is used to make the internal joinery elements. These range from large pivoting doors downstairs, the stair, the upper floor itself and the doors and cupboards upstairs. The upper floor is cut into large panels which mirror the concrete bays of the ground floor.
The client himself has designed and made douglas fir tables and benches to furnish the house.
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