Insulation, drylining and first fix is progressing at the farm. All the bedrooms are in their final size now.

The pictures here were taken on a very bright day hence the contrast between the light outside and the inside.

The size of the windows which follows the original gives just enough light and gives a protective atmosphere to the bedrooms, protection from the heat, cold and weather. 

Glenn Murcutt on Flickr

Don't you love Flickr. It is the best way of getting a huge range of photos from any famous building. Of course they are not as good as in publications but they give you a more in depth knowledge of buildings, in particular details. Here are a few slideshows of Glenn Murcutt's work:

Dry lining

Dry lining time is when the rooms suddenly appear, when you get a sense of their exact dimensions and the quality of the light in them (the photos below are not representative as the light outside was so bright on that day that the camera has accentuated the contrast).

This is especially true when you insulate well and internally in an old building as we have here. 16cm of insulation in the walls means that you take out 20cm away. It is a sacrifice well worth digesting; already, the area which has been insulated feels warm.




Render and insulation

The first coat of the lime render has been applied on all facades now so the overall appearance of the house is close to the finished product. The render has unified the masonry and you can read more clearly the windows and doors. Although it does look almost new, the subtlety of the render and the variation created by the old lime technique create a soft and warm texture; it is not flat the way modern renders are. It will also gain patina more easily.

The render will be left to dry for a month before applying the finishing coat so that it has time to settle. This will avoid the risk of cracks.

Traces of damp show where the walls are still drying after years of being exposed to the elements; this is particularly true of the lean-to where the roof had collapsed a decade ago so that water had penetrated from the top. You can see quite clearly though that the damp patches are decreasing and the sunny, hot weather is ideal for this at the moment.

To further dry the walls, we will be installing ground drainage around the perimeter of the whole house which will dry the ground near the foundations and thus reducing the damp that might rise by capillarity into the walls.




Inside, the first fix is almost finished and insulations and dry lining going a pace. The rooms are starting to feel like the finished spaces. You can already start to feel how well insulated the building is.


A lecture by Alejandro Aravena from Elemental

Here is a lecture in two parts of Alejandro Aravena about their partial self build social housing. 

The genius idea is essentially to build half of the house so that the inhabitant can self build the other half. This allows houses which are twice bigger than they would be otherwise. At the same time, it enables the inhabitants to be in control and responsible for their future. 

As the recording doesn't show the images, it is worth looking at their website at the same time.


The farm is air and watertight

At last, the solar panels have arrived, the last tiles have been laid around it and the last two doors installed.

The building is airtight and interior work can begin... Plasterboard, insulation and door sets are on site ready to be used tomorrow.

We are three weeks behind original schedule but we have a bit of slack in the internal works programme so with a bit of a push we should be able to catch up quickly.


The sample for the finishing layer of the lime render. Beautiful.

Rediscovering Aalto

Funny how you can spend years without thinking of one of your heroes.

Have been getting back into some old Alvar Aalto books and discovered yet again how incredibly ahead of his time he was.

Two projects are by far my favourites: his holiday home called the Muratsalo experimental house (photos here, here & here) and a house for a wealthy client the Villa Mairea (photos here).

Both deal with the relationship between nature and buildings and refer back to tradition in a contemporary way. Parts of both buildings are literally growing. The resulting buildings are unlike anything else; thoroughly modern they also seem traditional and anchored to their site. If you didn't know when they had been build, it would be difficult to guess.

There is something of a Japanese aesthetics in the use of found elements as they are, the strong rapport with nature and the natural materials, but one applied to a different local tradition.

In each case the most extreme example is the sauna building that follow a local tradition of a roof covered with a piece of meadow. In the more leisurely part of the building the architect has allowed himself to be even more experimental and rawer than in the main part of the house.


Experimental house

Aalto Summer House - Muuratsalo, Finland 


Villa Mairea

Villa Mairea - Aalto


As an architect, you have to be patient

Just back from Scotland for a client meeting thrilled that the church will be on site this summer.

After 4 years, the clients are ready to go ahead with construction so we are preparing for Building Control approval. We did get planning first time round for this Grade 2 Listed Building about a year ago after quite a long negotiation.

The project is planned to be on site this summer.

You can find a description of the concept here

Here is a render of the developped concept with a simplified form to allow for a tailored patterned mesh. The version shown is a painted MDF but we are looking into sheets of copper into which the pattern will be cut out.

Same view at night:

Inside in the middle of the landscape

A challenge of renovating an old farm house is how you open the inside to the landscape and the light without destroying the mass of the building.

In this case, we have created a number of extra vertical doors that open the house in other directions. As these openings are similar to the original ones, they read as a continuation. They are relatively cost effective to produce as their spans are limited. As you can see on the views below, this succession allows you to both feel protected by a thick wall and feel as if you are in the middle of the landscape. This is also true acoustically as the sound of the birds can be heard from the three directions giving an amazing acoustic three dimensionality.

Before, notice the subtle change in ceiling height; it has been created by dropping the floor by 10cm.

Although the openings are a small proportion of the wall, the power of the views dominates the space when you are there. You are drawn towards it and as you get closer, the vertical openings give you a total view of the landscape, from the ground to the sky.

This effect has been reinforced by having window jambs that open outwards; this allows you to see more of the landscape as the thickness of the wall is not hiding it.

We have also kept the alignment of doors which make what is otherwise a solid facade permeable. 

At last the tiles are laid

The night frost eventually stopped two weeks ago so they have been able to tile the roof.

It is almost finished.

The house has gained scale from the pattern of tiles; it looks smaller and more domestic.

We are keeping this wall and the door as existing. All the external walls are insulated internally and lined. The other inner walls will be rendered with a sand and lime mortar mix.

The kitchen looking East.


The big ground floor slab pour

Just back from France to see the pouring of the ground floor slab.

Here as elsewhere in this project we have gone for a simple, robust and cost effective solution: an industrial polished concrete floor. The cost effectiveness comes from simplifying what is normally three layers (concrete slab + screed + floor finish) with a single concrete layer which is polished to form the finished product.

The only problem with this system is that there is no margin for error which puts pressure on the craftsman to do the job perfectly first time round; this includes making sure that all services are laid correctly into it before the pour.

Here you can see the space prepared for the pour. The orange material is a thick layer of insulation (100mm) with upstands to stop cold bridging with the walls. The various blue and black tubes are ducts which will be cast in the floor in which cables and pipes for the electricity, data and plumbing will run. A metal mesh covers the space to resist cracking.

Here is the amazing "scorpion machine" which squeezes the concrete where is needed.

The craftsmen at work. It is a fascinating thing to see as the concrete is porridge consistency and they have to get it at the perfect horizontal level in that state. They guide themselves with a laser system (on the tripod) which makes a sound when the guide (which is used by the man on the right) is at the right height. As the concrete sets quite fast, it goes very fast. There is no margins of error; it simply cannot be re-done.

Here is the result before polishing. The end product is mirror like and a bit lighter in colour. I had to leave before they started the polishing which starts a few hours later once the concrete has set. More pictures to follow for final effect when I am next there in 2 weeks.

Un-molding the concrete slab

Making concrete is like baking really.

You mix your dry ingredients with wet ones, pour and let it set for a while and un-mold.

Due to this process, there is an element of uncertainty in the result; depending on the exact mix, temperature and the quality of the mold itself, different aspects might appear. So removing the shutters is always a time of slightly anxious excitement.

This time, it has worked amazingly.

The concrete has a polished stone like sheen and beautiful variations in its tonality ranging from pale to dark grey.

It reflects the light and makes the ceiling feel higher.

Small ripples created by the plastic sheet that covered the shuttering gives it life like fossils incrusted in a rock.

The polished floor above has not been quite as successful. The temperature went down to minus 6 on that night so the finish is more honed rather than polished.



The power of small alterations

In many ways this first phase of the farm project is a simple renovation of an old building. What is changed is limited to what was crumbling down (roof, timber floor, window jambs and lintels) or needs to be improved (insulation). And yet each of these is an opportunity for subtle changes with radically change the quality of the spaces.

Such an example are the windows and doors details.

If you look at these examples, you can see the impact of reversing the detail and widening very slightly each window. The original windows were installed close to the outer face of the wall with the walls chamfered to let light come in. We have reversed this; the windows will be in the inside and the openings open out towards the outside. We have also widened the angle slightly so that it lets in more light throughout the day.

A consequence which wasn't planned but is quite magical is that seen from inside, the wall seems thin and light. 

Location of master bedroom before

Location of master bedroom after

Location of other bedrooms before

Location of other bedrooms after

From the outside, the thickness of the wall is visible and the windows and doors seem to open out towards you.

The house looks more welcoming.

Front of the house before

Front of the house now


After the slow down due - mostly - to a harsh winter, the mild weather is allowing the builders to get momentum. 5 craftsmen have been working a pace finishing the doors and window openings and other bits of masonry.

Concrete being cast on top of walls to correct the slope so that it matches the original trusses. 

The two ground floor doors on the East facade have been created. They are on each side of the fire place in the kitchen. They will lead to the extension when it is build (you can see it here).

At first floor, the window sills are being cast.

The wind and rain conditions are not allowing the tiling of the roof this week.

First floor slab complete

The second part of the concrete first floor slab has been cast last Friday and polished through the night. They finished in the early hours of Saturday.

As it froze during the weekend, the surface is not quite as mirror like as it could and the colouring has some irregularities but it seems ok. I will be there in a week to see it in the flesh.

You can start to get a feel for the interior quality of the first floor. Sadly the new - paler - wood will be hidden in insulation. The beautifully restored trusses will be visible.

The joy & mystery of web recommendation

Discovered this morning that there is a recommendation for my services on a website I hadn't heard about

Here it is in all its "glory", not sure what to think of it; I don't know who has written it:

"Based in Kennington. Quite modern, visionary a sort of classic French pedant. Fantastic with colours and palettes. Also brilliant with interior desgn advice as well. Combines practical use of space with incredible style that you never quite think of. Has done converted churches and farms. Takes on whatever he finds interesting. Pretty expensive but then he is top end. You would use him if you want to hand a project to someone who will provide impeccable style and practicality."

In any case we got 4 stars out of five!

The carpentry is nearing completion

Another exciting step in the building process: the carpentry going up. 

Within a week, the house has a roof, is an enclosure.

It is only then that you start to get a feel for how the elevation will read at completion. From the outside, the windows that were light when the inside was outside are now dark.

The carpenter has done a great job with the renovation of the existing oak trusses. They still have the irregularities of hand cut timber.

Another exciting moment has been the casting of the lower part of the concrete first floor slab.

As both the soffit and the top of the slab will be left exposed, the contractor has preferred to cast the slab in two layers. The first has been cast on a plastic sheet to achieve a mirror like finish. The top will be polished.

The white box in the image above is a reservation for the lighting which will be below.

The concrete lorry is a fabulous machine with a scorpion like tail which can be directed with a portable joistick in any location.

Industrial Cement cladding is a sensitive response to a protected landscape

A great and surprising news today.

The Chichester Harbour Conservancy is going to use Cement House in their new guide as a good example of a sensitive contemporary development for this protected area. They consider that the matt grey corrugated cement sheets integrates the house successfully in the landscape.

What is surprising is their turnaround. When we were getting pre-planning advice, they were unsupportive of the industrial quality of the material. To simplify the Planning Process we eventually used Permitted Development Rights to avoid a protracted Planning Process and use this cladding legally.

We are delighted that the completed building has convinced them of our aim.

We decided on this material not only for the natural quality of its mat grey texture but also for its capacity to gain a beautiful patina with age. In such seaside environments, lichen slowly grows on it to create a lively texture exactly as it does on a slate roof. The other reason for the choice is that - against all pre-conception - it is warm and soft to touch, a little like weathered wood.

The cladding of this house has created mixed reactions. The younger generations love it; some call it - positively - the "Whaling Station". A few of the older generations have nicknamed it "the Nissen hut" after the prefab steel structure used during WW2. The client is delighted by the result; you can read her interview in last Saturday's Guardian Weekend Magazine article.

Another good news, the magazine Architecture Today will be running an article about this project and its cladding in its coming February issue.