Architects: Níall McLaughlin Architects
Location: Hertfordshire, UK
Mechanical Engineer: XCO2
Structural Engineer: Price & Myers
Main Contractor: Claremont Construction
Area: 220 sqm
Photographs: Nick Kane
Piper’s End is a hamlet supporting a mixed farming and commuting residential community. It is in the Green Belt zone around London. Local farming includes market gardening and bloodstock. The topography is very gently undulating but feels almost flat. This new house was given planning consent despite the zoning and the fact that it replaced a previous building of local historic importance.
The client for this project is our Quantity Surveyor. He worked with the practice since its inception in 1990, doing all of out first projects until he moved on to greater things. This is the second house we have built for the family. Since the first one, he has travelled the world with his wife and daughter, working in Asia, Australia and the USA. He has collaborated with an impressive range of international architects. The family returned with a collection of travel souvenirs and they wanted a modern house around which to display their gatherings.
We enjoyed the matter of fact arrangement of farm buildings in the area. Buildings, glasshouses and sheds, devoted to particular purposes, are set out side by side in a laconic, almost offhand fashion. Things are juxtaposed in an ordered way relating to the demands of particular processes. The brick house is a couple of feet away from the wooden shed, which butts up to the open steel hay barn alongside the concrete byre. Buildings are stacked loosely like books on a shelf.
This site is a long narrow enclosure with an orchard at one end and an open paddock at the other. You enter it from the side at one fixed point dictated by the old entrance. We chose to position the house so that it divides the site between the paddock and a smaller enclosed garden. New planting will reinforce the separation. Buildings were organised in a row, each doing something different, each made from different materials, each a slightly different length. They are lined up in parallel rows with one hard margin and one stepped edge where different sized blocks are sorted by length. We like to imagine that they might have been bought from a catalogue and set out using the simplest rule possible. The blocks are; Silver Birch, a wooden cabinet, a vitrine, a steel canopy, a concrete water trough. It is our intention that they should stand separately but interrelate in use.
The wooden cabinet is on the north side and you enter through it. It is intended that it should screen the open space of the paddock from the person arriving. You go through a modest doorway into the stair hall. The rooms in the wooden box all service the building. They are staircases, bathrooms, utility rooms and so on. As you move through, you come upon the open space of the larger box, the vitrine. Principal rooms open off a double height space, which forms the centre of the house. A substantial glazed screen faces the garden terrace. It frames wide views of the paddock to the south. So you discover the site by passing through the building. The glass wall is shaded by the next element, a steel shed-like canopy with a perforated roof. The canopy covers a terrace that is contained by a concrete pool. The pool reflects light into the house. Ponies and horses in the paddock will use it. They can drink from it and it forms a natural barrier to prevent them from walking into the house.