A recent project at One Thoresby Street artists studios and gallery gave us a chance to develop new techniques for designing with self-builders.
As part of a longstanding relationship with the artists at One Thoresby Street (OTS), we were asked to design a lobby space for the top-floor Attic Gallery. This would sort out circulation between the gallery and studio spaces and provide a vital fire safety feature by separating the occupied space from the access stairwell. Unusually, the lobby would be built entirely by the artists themselves.
We approached the project through a careful survey of the existing building and designed the lobby to create a great experience for visitors as they approached up the stairwell. A sliding fire door, held open on electronic sensors linked to the fire alarm system ensures that movement and views through are eased. The height of the lobby is reduced to contrast with the tall gallery space, which also minimises the materials used and creates a storage and projection deck overhead.
High technical standards had to be met in the project to create a fire resistant construction, the budget was tight for materials and the building team (skilled makers but not construction professionals) needed to have excellent clarity over the build process.
This put huge demands on the communication of technical information, so we took an approach more normally found in larger scale projects - we created a 'Building Information Model'. This was a CAD model showing every structural member, board and component, organised to give the artists a coordinated picture of the materials to order, the dimensions for cutting, the assembly sequence and the spatial relationship between every item in the final assembly. We then lent the group a laptop with the CAD model installed so that they could take the information directly off it on site.
The build proceeded smoothly with a tiny number of requests for additional information, wastage of materials was kept to a minimum and the end result is a happy self build client, an effective adaptation and an safer, better Attic Gallery space at OTS.
In the summer cabin we redesigned on the Oslo fjord, we articulated the main living space with an open screen that had to perform many functions: create a light visual separation within the open plan space, provide storage for outdoor clothing and shoes for up to ten guests, integrate a large TV and offer seating in front of the new wood stove.
We finalised the design of this custom-made furniture as the project was already on site and decided to build it out the same oak bench plates used for the new kitchen. We created detailed instructions for the builder about how to make and assemble this large piece of furniture. Our instructions even included the detailed cutting patterns to minimise waste from the standard benchtop boards used to make it!
Kubik Interiørarkitekter — the talented interior architects with whom we are sharing an office space in Oslo — asked me to take photos of their freshly completed new interior for Norman & Co, Norway's oldest law firm, in Oslo's exclusive Akerbrygge neighbourhood.
Here are some of my shots, trying to capture Kubik's delicate contrast of warm materials and cool light...
We love to design cabins, as they bring together so many of our design interests.
First, our predilection for architecture in remote (and often sensitive) natural locations, to create small thresholds where man meets nature, where minimal environmental footprint and limited access call for an economy of means.
And we are fond of designing tiny spaces — creating places rich in human interactions and intricate functions where people can really "key in" with the architecture, bringing back the simple joy of being together, sheltered from the elements.
But as importantly, cabins also act as social nodes where the complex community of the different generations in a family or in a group of friends congregate, each with their different needs, expectations and desires, making for a challenging but fascinating briefing process.
This redesign of a seaside cabin in Hvitsten, on the shore of the Oslo fjord, brought all these aspects together and was a nice counterpoint to our earlier design of a skiing winter cabin in the mountains of Hedmark.
About the project
As is often the case with Norwegian cabins, our clients for this project spanned over three generations. Initially built in the 1950s by the great-grandfather, the summer cabin and its small sleeping annex have been used ever since by the family for spring and summer holidays.
The extended families are now struggling to all fit in the cabins, which has become both too small and in need of repair. Now retired, the grandfather and his partner also want to use the cabin a lot more throughout the year, so they needed the uninsulated cabin to be upgraded for the winter climate and wished to have a real bathroom installed.
All had cherished childhood memories of the cabin and wanted to preserve as much of its exterior aspect and rustic character as possible. So, their requirement to comfortably fit in up to twelve sleeping guests for occasional extended family gatherings called for inventive remodelling and renovation, considering their tight budget!
Looking at the existing cabins
Perched against a steep rocky hillside overlooking the sea, the cabins face south-west into a breathtaking view of the Oslo fjord and its slow ballet of sailboats and cruise ships.
In the main cabin, the small living room actually had a large window opening towards the fjord, but the kitchen and meal area — central to family life in the cabin — were situated behind it, in the darkest part of space of cabin, right against the rock face to the north. The other facades of the cabin were essentially blind because of a small hallway and the two bedrooms to the west. As a result, the main daytime social spaces had no visual connection with either the covered porch to the south-west or the sleeping cabin to the west, both of them often used in the mornings and evenings for informal meals and drinks.
Typical of spaces with light coming from only one direction, this configuration made the living room and meal area appear strangely gloomy, as the large window created a glare effect in contrast with the other darker and unlit interior surfaces. Built to look straight onto the fjord through this large window, the space had only short interior perspectives, making it appear more cramped and small than it actually was.
Situated a few meters downhill and to the west, the sleeping annex had a quiet simplicity to it, nested in the overgrown vegetation and straddling a small stream in the rocks. Unfortunately, an improvised shower had been installed inside a few years back without proper ventilation and created damp problems, so that in addition to being overcrowded, its sleeping rooms had also become uncomfortable.
The initial plan was to integrate the existing porch into the main cabin, to create an extra bedroom. While this made sense to accommodate more guests, we all agreed that this compounded some of the existing problems, in particular closing off the main cabin from the fjord.
Turning the problem around, we actually removed one bedroom from the main cabin, thus keeping only one for the most frequent occupants of the cabin: the grand-father and his partner.
We carefully checked the feasibility of our proposal by preparing a comprehensive list of use scenarios, from one couple to up to fourteen sleeping guests! We found that moving the shower out of the sleeping annex, ventilating it properly and making some slight adjustments to its interior layout and bedding would allow eight people to comfortably sleep there. All this could be done at minimum cost, so that most of the available budget could be dedicated to the main cabin.
Now remained the task of optimising the shared daytime spaces in the main cabin. And this was essential: every parent can imagine the intense atmosphere when up to three families, including young children, are stuck together indoors for a whole rainy afternoon! Thus, in addition to creating functional living quarters, we also needed to organise sub-spaces within this small cabin, so that everyone could define his or her comfortable own space.
A niche in the rocks
We approached this task from two different angles.
First, we created two different sub-spaces: one for the adults, facing the fjord, more social and relaxing, and one more playful for the children, cradled against the vegetation of the shaded cliff face. These two spaces intersect around the dinner table, the natural converging point for the whole family.
Then, we connected these spaces to the outdoors by nesting these sub-spaces around generous openings — not just towards the fjord, but also towards the sleeping cabin wrapped in overgrown vegetation down to the west, the mossy rocks at the north and the sunbathed terrace to the south — to create a dual feeling of spaciousness and enclosure.
Although the main living space remains compact, it feels opened to the light patterns and textures of its natural surroundings.
Frequently eating out during the summer months, the kitchen and dining area extend out onto a terrace that is stepping down, so as to maintain unobstructed views of the sea horizon, even when terrace parasols are used or the large awning on the south facade is deployed. The terrace also acts as a connecting point between the main cabin, the play garden and the shaded path to the sleeping cabin.
Fitting it all together
Space was very limited inside the main cabin, so we concentrated most of the storage along the west wall, designed as a large oak surface perforated by the kitchen and large window niche where children can sit and play. To make sure that everything fitting nicely, we produced a detailed specification for these densely fitted interior — both in Norwegian and in English, at the clients' request.
We love to involve our clients in the building process. And since one of them is keen on woodworking, we had a design session together to develop together the design of open screen between kitchen and sitting, which also will also integrate coat/shoe storage, seating, a book shelf and the TV equipment. He will later on build it himself.
The very basic existing drainage and electric systems were upgraded to cater for the new bathroom and appliances. The cladding was damaged and needed replacing, so we insulated the whole building fabric and fitted new energy-efficient windows. Along with a flexible shading system and ample provisions for natural ventilation, our clients will be able to enjoy their cabin all-year round!
Looking at potential suppliers of concrete worktops for a fit out project recently, I contacted Warrington & Rose. Locally based and with some really interesting pieces on their website, including an intriguing experimental piece with cinnamon sticks cast in to a concrete table top.
I had a good chat with Michael Thorpe, who turned out to be an ex-student of mine from Nottingham Trent University who set the company up after graduating and a few years working in the industry.
Great to see a former student creating some quality products, taking experimental risks and branching out as an entrepreneur!
Various Architects have just sent us photos of the finished interior of the new Lederne headquarters office they designed as part of the Olympiagård project, in downtown Oslo. We collaborated with them on the detailed design of the furniture and partition units.
Images © Various Architects.
Our clients are now finalising the site work on our remodel of their home in Eidsvoll, Norway.
We were originally approached by the clients in 2011, to reorganise a family house that has become overcrowded for their family of five and — more importantly — to create a modern comfortable home they would be proud of.
The clients' brief
Already extended once, this house was in fact spacious enough for the family. Yet the existing layout made poor use of the internal space: stiffly compartmenting into disconnected rooms, the floor plans created several "dead areas" on key locations of the three levels, which were mostly left unused by its inoccupants or barely used for storage.
The existing services were obsolete and poorly placed — with no bathroom on the ground floor for instance — and the clients were eager to upgrade the building fabric and technical installations as part of the remodelling exercise. Summer overheating and noise from the increasing overhead airport traffic were particularly problematic.
Conscious that their three teenage sons would be soon leaving the family home, the parents were also willing to remodel the house so that the upper floor could easily be isolated from their accessible quarters on the ground floor in the coming years, to be rented out to tenants with minimum additional work.
All these had to be address with minimum alterations to the exterior of the building, to fit the budget and the local planning rules.
Unlocking the flow
After a detailed survey of the existing house, we identified key factors breaking the flow through the house. These were tackled by a series of strategic moves that could unlock the potential of the space in a cost effective way. At the core of the approach was to clarify the organisation of public and private spaces, and how these flowed into one another.
A few key changes to the internal building fabric allowed us to both connect the spaces for greater flexibility in use (to host large family events, for instance) and respond to the need for privacy between the different parts of the house.
Creating an experience
Altering the floor plans was the first move to transform this home. We extended this approach to carefully select interior materials and light fittings, to suggest and emphasize the new relationships between the spaces.
Entering the house, the visitor is drawn further into the spaces by a series of focal points revealing themselves progressively from different viewpoints as the house is explored, linking the social spaces and the large garden outdoors.
The timber structure was fully re-insulated internally, using high density natural wood fibre insulation to improve all year round thermal comfort and dampen external noise. Comfort was further improved by replacing the existing windows with hi-spec new low-energy and noise reduction glazing.
With minimal changes to the existing drainage system, two new family bathrooms and a guest toilet were added to the ground and first floors. Connected to a new centralised ventilation system, they dramatically improve indoor air quality in a quiet and energy efficient way.
Working in close collaboration with the clients, with their in-depth knowledge of every corner of the house and the way it was constructed, allowed very detailed design and planning of all the alterations, while keeping building costs low.
Over the bank holiday I dropped in to see how the clients for our low energy house are getting on. They've been in residence for a good few months now and it was great to see the house in operation as a home.
The property is going to be open to visitors as part of the programme of tours arranged during September 2013 by West Bridgford Eco Houses- if you want to visit check out their blog post about the house.
All the energy saving features are behaving well, although it is too early yet to get statistical feedback on performance. The basic principle is to make good use of passive solar gains from the south and trap the heat in the the high thermal mass of the building, inside a highly insulated jacket. Overheating is prevented by the thermal mass, which evens out temperature highs and lows, and by effective use of shading on the south facing windows. The other important factor is to control drafts, and the build quality here is exceptionally good.
The really gratifying thing to see was that the house is working well as a home for our clients- it's clearly a comfortable, welcoming and relaxed place to live.
As part of their remodelling and refurbishment of a large office building in downtown Oslo into the new Olympiagården project, Various Architects — with whom we are sharing an office — invited us to work with them on the detailed design of interior furniture for their design of the future Lederne Headquarters.
Various Architects' design included a series of large timber partitions that would integrate seating, services and storage. Articulating the new refurbished office space in a playful and subtle manner, these interior elements were to create a unifying visual and functional concept for the large open plan office.
Their design and positioning were to weave social spaces to create spots for impromptu social interactions, but also help subtly define more private areas for focused work and conceal the services and air conditionning system. Other furniture such as the reception desk and work spaces, were also to be custom-made in a similar fashion.
Based on their brief we developed a series of design concepts playing on the idea of the massiveness of stacked timber elements, with their textures contrasting with the existing concrete structure of the building. These concepts were developed with Various Architects, in consultation with a number of joinery companies specialised in custom-made office fittings, that gave us feedback during the design stage, to make sure that budget and technical constraints would be met.
We then finalised the detailed design of the timber elements and prepared a series of concept and technical drawings that were incorporated to the tender package for the project.
The refurbishment and fittings of the Lederne Headquarters is now on site. As with our collaboration on the Aalto Campus competition, it has been a pleasure working with Various Architects and we are looking forward to collaborating with them again on exciting projects!
Update 26/11/2013: new photos of the completed interior!
Our strategic approach to the remodel of a 1920s home was to carve out a new space at the centre- relinking areas of the house that for reasons of class had originally been divided into servant and served.
Into this void would go a contemporary stair, a strong element in its own right but designed to direct space- creating important spatial links and sightlines.
The existing stained-glass steel framed window to the south elevation remains in place, pouring light into the new heart of the house.