Kensington, London, UK
The site is deep in the Northamptonshire countryside and surrounded by farmland. Historically, it was a brick quarry. In recent times, it has been a fishery. Two lakes were dug, stocked with fish and used by coarse fishing enthusiasts (and sometimes for local fishing competitions).
We were commissioned to replace the miscellaneous fishery buildings with a single new, environmentally sustainable, house and separate stabling for horses.
Just as in Seoul, and at Earl’s Court, we designed from the outset with the construction process in mind. We designed a house without special or complex junctions, that can be simply, quickly and economically assembled on site, using large, mass-produced, pre-fabricated elements.
However, it will also be a robust house, with two features more commonly associated with commercial rather than domestic architecture: a steel frame and large format concrete planks for both floor and roof.
This will be a strong, elegant but simple, value-for-money house.
Paddocks cover half the site and their ridge and furrow contours are a reminder of mediaeval farming practices that were widespread in the English Midlands. By contrast, the land around the lakes, which are where the quarry used to be, is churned land. There is a majestic stand of oaks on the southern boundary. Weeping willows, planted by the lakes, are starting to become large enough to have character. The remainder of the land will be planted with wild and native species: grasses, wild flowers and hedgerow plants that blend in with the wider rural landscape.
The obvious place to situate the new house would have been the property’s sheltered south-eastern corner. We chose the most dramatic spot: between the two lakes. The land bridge separating them is elevated, so there will be views from the house across the larger of the two lakes to the sweeping countryside that lies beyond. It is also narrow. This dictates a long and narrow house, supported on piles. These need to be deep enough to penetrate the firm ground below the lakes and brick quarry excavations.
This is a house in a domesticated landscape, not a wild and rugged one. It should relate to the land, the earth, the sky, the wild animals and the birds but also to the farm animals and the horses. Striking a balance between agricultural vernacular and the drama of nature is intrinsic to the design of this house between two lakes.
Dreary grey corrugated fibreboard, such as is found on barns throughout the Midlands, is used as the
exterior cladding; and the house is intended to look, at first glance, rather ordinary: like little more than a long, low shed.
In fact, what looks like a pitched roof is, in reality, a floating visor, held at a distance from the main structure and giving shade to the glass doors which wrap much of the exterior. The glass doors slide back, opening the house up to the outside and to the water over which it is suspended.
Main photograph by Simon Watson for British Vogue. All remaining images © Sophie Hicks Architects