Why a staircase, when you can have a treehouse?

Thibaut Devulder

A client have just sent us some photos of the finished staircase we have designed for her house.

We designed this little structure to provide access from the upper terraces of the house down to the garden space. Since the garden was also a prime spot for children play, we designed the staircase wrapped around a “treehouse”, in which the children can hide and play, or take a fun shortcut climb back home!

Cabane

Thibaut Devulder

The structure of woven maple shoots we ended up with...

Playing with my two-year-old son in my dad's garden, we found a bundle of young shoots freshly cut from a pollarded maple tree. Without any particular plan to build anything, we started to stake them into the ground and bend them around randomly. We somehow ended up with a nice little hut...

The overall form of the hut and its weaving patterns simply emerged from the natural flexibility of the bent branches and the shape of our own bodies pushing them around. A refreshing lack of processed materials, tools or planned design. Just an interaction between play and the natural resources of a place. Maybe the way a bird would build its nest?

The branches were simply woven into one another, without any particular plan or pattern

The resulting woven structure was surprisingly strong!

Creating a flexible outdoor social space

Thibaut Devulder

For this small project, we were approached by clients who wanted a sheltered space to host their frequent outdoor social events. We helped them design an integrated and flexible garden structure, to create a comfortable outdoor microclimate, whatever the weather or the occasion.

Our client, enjoying a late summer evening in the transformed terrace

The house already had a well-exposed adjacent terrace, but the the westerly wind and rain showers often disturbed the frequent social gatherings organised by our clients. They were looking for an affordable solution that would provide them with flexible configurations for the various social occasions (from small family dinner to large work events with 20+ guests).

Analysing each use scenario, we focused on creating a solution that would integrate well with the existing hard and soft landscaping, yet remain flexible in its use and the degrees of shelter it could provide.

In particular, we wanted to keep the space as open as possible to its surrounding. So we opted for a system of retractable textile roofs and glass screen walls, so that the outdoor space could function well throughout the year, whatever the weather, the number of guests and the type of activity it would host.

In parallel to this design process, we investigated both custom-made and standardised garden structures. We eventually converged towards a hybrid option, whereby we customised an existing pergola system to tailor it to the specific needs and taste of our clients and to the site, keeping the project on budget and allowing for fast-track installation — on time for the Norwegian National Day!

Testing furnishing configurations and checking their feasibility using standardised and custom-made elements, we refined the design with the clients to converge towards the final built result.

Our clients have since then sent us some nice photos, having enjoyed their new outdoor space from early spring to late autumn, hosting many social gatherings with family and friends!

The art of ageing gracefully

Tom Hughes

On Sunday I revisited the memorial project for the Nottingham Progressive Jewish Congregation. It was finished three years ago, and the beauty of the stone is now really coming through.

The Clipsham limestone we specified has mellowed down in colour and is showing a nice patina whilst the twisting coping stones and faced block to the interior look as crisp as ever.

Clipsham is a local stone with a noble pedigree- quarried less than 40 miles from the site of the memorial, it was used in the construction of Windsor Castle in the 14th Century and at King's College Chapel in Cambridge.

The coping stones were 'spun' into shape on site from a harder york stone, giving them a sharper line, greater weathering resistance and a darker blue/brown appearance.

Nasjonale Turistveger prequals

Thibaut Devulder

We have just sent an application for the Nasjonale Turistveger prequalifications, teaming up with three talented Norwegian designers: Mona Kramer Wendelborg (landscape architect), Brit Sejersted Bødtker (architect) and Thea Collett (architect and lighting designer).

The  Haptisk  team (from left: Thea Collett, Thibaut Devulder, Brit Bødtker and Mona Wendelborg)

The Haptisk team (from left: Thea Collett, Thibaut Devulder, Brit Bødtker and Mona Wendelborg)

This prequalification is organised by the National Tourist Routes of Norway, looking for teams of young and creative professionals to design fifty new resting places and viewpoints along its touristic roads, winding through landscapes of outstanding natural beauty.

These types of projects are close to our hearts: designing intimate spaces strongly anchored in their context, merging landscape and architecture, involving local communities and artists...

To illustrate the diverse and interdisciplinary skills and experiences of our team, we presented ourselves around three themes — thinking on the edge, togetherness and material tactility — choosing as our motto the word HAPTISK (Norwegian for haptic).

Thea is a creative lighting designer working for Rambøll Norway and both Mona and Brit share with me an office space in Oslo. It is great to collaborate once again with my co-worker from Sommerrogata 17!

Self-build land shelter gets its roof

Tom Hughes

I spend a great couple of days helping put the roof on the shelter Alina designed for Iona School in Nottingham. The shelter structure consists of 8 larch tree trunks supporting a circular deck and a plywood reciprocal frame roof. Now topped with turf it blends in with its woodland setting from some angles and takes on an almost temple-like appearance from others. The shelter will be used as an outdoor classroom for pupils at the school, which offers Steiner education with activities often based on the land. 

You can find out more about the shelter, the build process and the people involved at the project blog.

Portfolio project
Prag uthus

Thibaut Devulder

The original brief for this project was to create an outbuilding to an existing family house designed by renowned Norwegian functionalist architect Rolf Prag. This outbuilding would accommodate garage space and a small apartment for rental.

We designed a simple single-story building that echoed the typology of the main building, but keeping it visually more compact to respect the functional hierarchy between the main building and its servant outbuilding.

However, a year after the outbuilding was completed, the client decided to sell the main house and suggested moving to this outbuilding. Originally proposed as a joke by the client, this rapidly became an attractive option to temporarily accommodate the family, whilst their new house was being designed and built. The move, however, required a partial remodelling to accommodate a family of four...

The outbuilding then went into another iteration of design, the plot being subdivided to allow the sale of the main building. The area was also relandscaped to cater for this new use.

We merged the existing garage and storage space into the living quarters, creating two more bedrooms and a utility room. With minimal changes to the external appearance of the building, a new garden space and carport were fitted onto the tight plot, framing the entrance to the house and providing a low maintenance outdoor play space.

Planning permission has been granted and the remodelling of the outbuilding and hard landscaping work are now underway.

Portfolio project
A stone memorial for a Jewish congregation

Tom Hughes

This project is the result of our combined interests in public art, craftsmanship and education. Starting as a student design competition that we organised at Nottingham Trent University for the Nottingham Progressive Jewish Congregation, our design process became an involved exploration of traditional stone walling techniques and complex numerical modelling to create a solemn yet welcoming landscaped space.

This project was shortlisted for the RIBA East Midlands Award for Architecture 2011.

The completed stome memorial, with collaborating artist Igor Barteczko

We were approached by the client to create a memorial structure for their congregation’s cemetery on an exposed hillside with excellent views over the Trent valley. We proposed, set up and ran a design competition for students, then collaborated with the winner to bring the project to completion. We redesigned the competition winning entry, working with the student in the role of project artist, to ensure buildability and adherence to a very restricted budget.

Our innovations on this project include a rejuvenation of traditional craft building techniques and the use of three dimensional computer modelling to achieve the twisting shape using stonework. We developed a custom plugin for our 3D modelling software to help us explore alternative geometries with the stone masons and produce the required three-dimensional templates for the preparation of the curved ashlar stonework.

The first commemorative plaques, on the curved ashlar.

The resulting structure creates a strong sense of place with an intense focus for ceremonial purposes, whilst also framing views out and welcoming visitors in.

The Memorial viewed from the cemetery entrance.


Permaculture gardening

Thibaut Devulder

Before winter hits the Serbian hills, I visited the Sokolovica eco-village on the Rtanj mountain in Southern Serbia to help them prepare the gardening raised beds where they will grow most of their food next year.

As part of our permaculture strategy, we wanted to set up the first of a series of deeply mulched raised beds. The first beds were to be placed as close to the house as possible, to make then easier to maintain.

We decided to start small and wrap the first one around a mature apple tree, situated close to the entrance of the site. The shape of the raised bed would follow the drip line of the apple tree (below the perimeter of its foliage), where rain and condensation water tend to naturally get concentrated by its leaves, thus minimising the need to irrigate the bed later on. The drip line is also where the tree’s feeding root are at their densest below ground, so that will maximise interaction with companion plants growing in the raised bed.

Here's a sketch plan of the bed wrapping around the apple tree:

Permaculture gardening

As the raised bed should neither be tilled nor disturbed, we created so called keyhole openings into the bed to allow easy reach to any part of the bed without having to stamp (and compact) the soil.

Placing the bed under the crown of the apple tree made it possible to use its foliage to define a range of different micro-climates in its shadows — protecting the plants below from the hot summer sun and from mid-season morning frosts. The tree foliage would also help protect the bed from the frequent summer thunderstorms, breaking the speed of the rain drops before they could damage the more delicate plants.

The excavation of the nearby reed bed filtering the house's grey water has unearthed a vast supplies of rocks (chalk?) and we decide to reuse some of them to create a border. In addition to keeping the mulch in place, they will provide habitat for small insect predators such as lizards and spiders. Their thermal mass will also play a role in controlling the bed's microclimates: accumulating heat during daytime and acting as condensation traps at dawn. The rest of our full time pest-controlling team — the birds — would happily perch on the apple tree above the bed and keep the insect population under control.

Laying out the raised beds was intuitive and fun: run around the tree with a wheelbarrow to figure the width of path and keyholes. Once this was done, visualising the width of the beds and the position of the keyholes was as as simple as two people walking round while shaking hands — since any part of the bed should be reachable from one of the sides without having to trample the mulch. Refreshingly practical!

The bed was mulched as follows (bottom to top):

  1. a layer of cardboard (reclaimed from local shops) to suppress the weeds under the bed,
  2. a thick pile of decomposing organic matters (pruned branches, food scraps, fallen fruits), mixed with some soil excavated for cellar drainage,
  3. a deep layer of fallen leaves collected from surrounding roads and alleys,
  4. a layer of straw from locally produced bales to insulate the soil and prevent seed germination until spring.

The raised bed was then copiously watered and will be left over winter to decompose into rich humus. Now waiting for the spring to start planting...

Portfolio project
Stranded: extreme picknicking in the dunes

Tom Hughes

In response to the Structures on the Edge competition, we collaborated with artist Tristan Hessing, of One Thoresby Street, to explore the ambivalent relationship between art and nature conservation. We designed a shifting public art installation on the wild beaches of the Lincolnshire coast, on the theme of extreme picnicking.

The Stranded art installation, slowly eroding within the shifting sand dunes of the Lincolnshire coast

Our chosen site: a fragile dune ecosystem, isolated on a windblown seashore.

Stranded was our shortlisted entry for the 2010 Structures on the Edge art programme, and a distant cousin of our Bathing Beauties competition entry.

The artists’ brief called for small permanent structures in the sand dunes of the Lincolnshire coast that would respond to the wild beauty and harsh environment. Our response was to design an installation for extreme picnicking as a robust response to the rugged nature of the site.

Shifting sands

We decided to make our intervention at a dune crossing point, reinforcing and protecting the dune whilst giving views and shelter for visitors as they move between land and beach. Stranded would be a faceted concrete structure whose shape was derived from the dune surface, but with points raised to provide views and shelter, and others buried beneath the surface to provide foundations. We would see it as a geometric abstraction of the dune landscape, a frozen snapshot of the shifting sands. It might be taken for an archaeological artefact that has been exposed, or is in the process of being covered, by the sands.

Our collaboration with the artist

We found that Tristan shared our approach to understanding the project and our chosen site at Wolla Bank. We took our cameras and tape recorders and had a picnic in the dunes. We talked and sketched and thought, but we also interviewed everyone we could — hikers, families, fishermen, dog walkers, bird watchers.

It became obvious that it was the remoteness and rawness that they appreciated. All of them had visited Wolla Bank many times, and they all praised its quietness and undeveloped nature. Rather than change the place by inserting an icon that would signal development, we decided we should intervene in a strong but subtle way in the landscape.

The making

The process of making Stranded would be intimately connected to these intentions. Creating a mould from the sand of the dune, we would dig out areas of the structure which would be ultimately submerged beneath the ground, and build up areas that would be raised. Finally, we would spray on fibre reinforced concrete to form the structure. The process would be like building a giant sand castle — a hands-on process through which we would engage the local community and visitors.

The exposed concrete areas would collect sand and be blown clean so that the structure would change over time, a process that we would document and that would help to explain the life, mobility and sensitivity of dunes to the visitor.

" 2hD have been committed to delivering the highest standard possible at every opportunity in our collaboration, which is absolutely how it should be and the reason why it has worked so well for all parties.
From our initial shared exploration of the site, they were very engaged with my responses and ideas, responding quickly with visualisations and practical suggestions for the making process. The principle of our collaboration was to understand where our common ground was and how best to pool resources and create design without compromise."

— Tristan Hessing, collaborating artist