Crafting our micro-office Mission Control has been a great opportunity for us to experiment with many of the technologies we implement in our larger projects, such as natural materials, prefabrication, breathing construction and self-build techniques.
Let's look back at how Mission Control was actually made.
Prefabricating the structure
We wanted to approach the making of our new micro-office as a full-scale architecture project and develop further our expertise in prefabrication and self-build techniques.The structure of the building is composed of 13 timber panels that were prefabricated in our workshop situated 50 meters (and 3 door frames! ) away, before being transported and assembled on the site,
Each panel was designed so that its size and weight would allow two people (Tom and me) to carry it on site safely. To simplify this, we created a small plugin for SketchUp to automatically check this as we modelled the structural panels, as well as to create detailed material lists and clear fabrication manuals for each module.
Assembling the construction
Once fabricated, each module was connected on site to the existing foundations of the former garden shed and to its neighbouring panels. It was then insulated with natural sheep's wool insulation, which was a real treat to install. The whole assembly was finally wrapped in wood-fibre boards for weather-tightness, extra insulation and breathability.
The interior climate is then simply regulated by natural ventilation (adjustable with vents in the door and skylight) and the heating provided by the waste heat produced by our computers. The whole wall construction is vapour-open, complementing the natural ventilation to maintain a healthy and comfortable environment inside.
The broom cladding
The outside of the enclosure was finally clad with a total of 546 wooden broom heads, with natural coco-fibre bristles, screwed to battens wrapping around the breathing walls.
The selection of broom heads as a cladding material has been the result of a careful search for a material that would fulfil all our needs: a natural material with an interesting texture, readily available and affordable, friendly to the touch, yet resistant to break-ins by concealing any opening into the building.
Broom heads actually proved a rather economical cladding materials, as well as creating beautiful shades of browns and greys that evolve with the seasons and ambient humidity, reminiscent of some traditional thatching techniques.
Imagine, design, build and own...
Designing and crafting our micro-office Mission Control has been a long story: we started toying with the idea almost ten years ago! And it has sometimes been a frustrating one, especially when trying to fit this project between our other "more urgent" projects.
But, in the end, this has been an immensely satisfying project and something we are very proud of — having converted our initial idea into an actual architectural space that we love and truly feel our own, every bit of it designed and crafted with our own hands. A project that embodies many of our ethical values and architectural sensibilities at 2hD Architecture Workshop.
Nicknamed "Mission Control", our broom-clad micro-office is an exercise in teleportation, designed to take us from the everyday hurly burly to a another world — one of calm, quiet and focus.
The inception of Mission Control
Our UK office was a home office — not squeezed in to a back bedroom but occupying a large ground floor room with direct access to the main entrance and the garden. For some years this served us well, but the arrival of children led inevitably to a loss of separation. As any home-working architect will testify, the room with all the paper and colouring pens is a kid magnet!
To some extent, the injection of informality improved things — collaborations became looser, more relaxed and more creative — but we were left with the need for a ‘cave’ to complement our increasingly lively ‘commons’.
Our working practices have always involved two very distinct modes. The first is highly collaborative and semi-structured, requiring large surfaces, space and materials for analogue production of drawings and models. The second, as a counterpoint, requires periods of immersion in focussed digital design and production work. Our existing home office provided ideal conditions for the former, but creating the conditions for the latter was always extremely difficult.
Crafting a solution
In the garden was glazed shed, built by the previous owner from repurposed corrugated iron, old windows, offcuts of vinyl and pieces of timber. Rickety in the extreme, we nevertheless blessed it with the name “Mission Control” because it was a great place to retreat to when setting off fireworks on bonfire night.
We decided the replacement for this shed would become our garden office.
The rise of the garden office has been met by a multitude of packaged solutions, and some truly wonderful bespoke designs. But nothing we could find in the market met our slightly odd needs.
We also felt the urge to make, at 1:1 scale and with our own hands, something that we had designed from scratch. So we decided to embark on a highly personal journey into design and build.
We designed Mission Control as a sort of antithesis of "the contemplation space with landscape views and flowing inside-outside space". We needed a cell, removed from physical context and worldly distraction, where we could retreat to immerse ourselves in brain work.
Our intention was that the building should create three totally separate experiences: an enigmatic exterior, a serene interior and a ceremonial commute to work...
An inscrutable box in the garden
Without any visible door or window the outer facades are entirely clad in natural coco-fibre broom heads: details and junctions are largely concealed, as the broom bristles interlock to provide a continuous and visually diffuse surface. Thus giving no clue as to its status as occupied or empty, the structure existing merely as an object of intrigue.
This is a reverse Tardis: much smaller on the inside than it appears from the outside. The difference in volumes results from the simple shed-like pitched roof hidden behind the parapet. The polycarbonate surface of the roof only pops through the brush cladding to divert — yet eliminates familiar details like fascias and gutters, which would make the box readable as an archetypal shed or garden office.
A serene enclosure
The space within is a comfortable and calm isolation chamber for undisturbed concentration. Two back-to-back desks are nested under the low ceilings, reminiscent of the containment created by the sloping ceiling of an artist’s garret.
Interior walls and ceilings are clad with whitewashed plywood, which adds to the calm and natural feeling environment. The breathable walls, wrapped with sheep’s wool insulation, create a healthy internal environment that is easily heated by body warmth and waste heat from computers.
Daylight and ventilation are provided by a single hidden skylight that perforates through the reflective roof surface.
A ceremonial commute
Commuting to work in Mission Control is an important symbolic process: the full experience of ‘going to work’ is here in condensed and enhanced form.
Leaving the house, and travelling the 4 metre journey to the door of the office, provides just enough time to calm and focus.
Entering the building requires interaction: finding the ‘secret panel’ broom head, sliding back the heavy screen door and pushing through the solid leaf behind...
This is a little ritual that requires concentration and creates distance from whatever else is on your mind. As the door clunks shut behind you, the box seals itself and the separation is complete. Let focus begin.
It has been a while since we last gave our hairy micro-office project some attention, but this weekend we completed the roof. This tiny building is taking shape. Specifically, it is now the shape of a large wooden box.
What we are doing is trying to build ourselves a tiny office building that shimmers from above, shelters from within and bemuses from outside, a space for focussed work away from our increasingly chaotic home office. This is not a project that we are rushing.
We have a strange idea about the cladding for this building, which is where the hairy comes in. In the meantime we are celebrating topping out with the Viking (possibly...) tradition of fixing an evergreen tree branch to the roof. Skål!