Renergising visit to the low energy house

Tom Hughes
The New House, Maplebeck

The New House, Maplebeck

I visited the North Nottinghamshire village of Maplebeck today with a group of 1st year students architecture from Nottingham Trent University. We were there to visit the New House, as guests of 2hD's wonderful clients Roger and Sue Bell. The students also visited the new Maplebeck village hall by Marsh Growchowski Architects and the nearby Hockerton Housing Project.

The students are learning about sustainable building design as part of their first year technical studies, so these three real-world low energy projects will be a boost to their understanding. For me personally it was great to return to Maplebeck and hear how well the house is working and how happy Roger and Sue are with the design. As the sun came out during the day we watched as the solar array pumped out nearly 7Kw of electricity, meeting the house's tiny energy demands with ease, charging the Tesla battery and exporting the excess to the National Grid.

Perhaps the only sad point of the day was to reflect on how unusual low energy housing still is considered in the UK. When I was taught as an undergraduate student in the early 1990s by Brenda & Robert Vale, they were completing their own house in Southwell, itself the culmination of research dating back to their 1975 publication "The Autonomous House". Four decades after that book, and a quarter century after the autonomous house in Southwell, we are still looking to the NEXT generation of architects, builders and developers to make sustainable housing the norm rather than the exception.

Let's hope today's visit has inspired some of the NTU students to integrate sustainable principles seamlessly into their creative processes!

Kudos to Roger and Sue for hosting us, to Derek Sayer of the Maplebeck Village Hall committee for tours of that building and to Chris Marsh, my NTU colleague for arranging the visit.

2hD Director Chris Heuvel appointed RIBA Fellow

Tom Hughes

Our director Chris Heuvel is one of only 15 architects to be awarded Royal Institute of British Architects Fellow status in the 2018 list. The RIBA says of the award that "Fellow Membership gives us the opportunity to recognise our inspirational Chartered Members, the sometimes unsung heroes of the profession, who have made a real contribution to architecture, and the community."

Chris3.jpg

Chris' full citation reads as follows:

"Chris is a Director at 2hD Architecture Workshop and a lecturer at Nottingham Trent University (NTU), where he delivers the professional practice elements of both the undergraduate and postgraduate architectural programmes, in addition to acting as Professional Studies Advisor for students in practice. He also runs the Design Studio module followed by first year undergraduates.

Chris champions architectural education as an integral aspect of professional practice, and is currently undertaking a major research project on behalf of NTU into how practitioners’ engagement with their local communities can be compatible with their business development objectives. All his teaching is substantially informed by a lifetime of active involvement in community engagement projects – previously in Norfolk and now in Nottingham, where (in conjunction with 2hD Ltd) he is currently helping a local group develop a business plan for the revival of their recently closed community centre."

Congratulations Chris, the recognition is thoroughly well deserved!

546 brooms: the making of Mission Control

Thibaut Devulder

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.

 
Bringing one of the 13 prefabricated units on site for assembly

Bringing one of the 13 prefabricated units on site for assembly

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,

One of the prefabrication manuals: we created one for each timber panel 

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.

Section through the breathing wall construction

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. 

 

Corner detail of the cladding, showing the interlocked broom heads

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.

Portfolio project
Mission Control: an experimental hairy micro-office

Tom Hughes

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.

 

The new office matches the exact volume and footprint of this old shed

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. 

The mysterious object, as seen from our collaborative office space

Corner detail of the coco-fibre broom cladding

 

One of the two focussed workstation inside Mission Control

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. 

View into the garden through the open sliding door, clad in brooms

 

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.

The boom cladding, momentarily shifted to reveal the space within

How to enter our broom-clad office...

Update: Mission Control has been featured on architecture magazines and websites around the world, including ArchDailydesignboom, TreeHuggerNew AtlasinHabitat and Dwell.


Portfolio project
A sensitive contemporary extension

Tom Hughes

How to extend a 1930s 'Arts and Crafts' style detached house? One approach would be to mimic the original building, but that's not always the most sensitive or responsive solution.

The proposed extension takes a back seat to the original house

Our clients asked us to extend their house over a dilapidated single storey 'lean-to' garage, to provide a couple of new bedrooms. They also needed more ground floor space to connect properly with their garden.

Looking at the street scene, it was immediately clear that development pattern was characterised by detached houses with relatively low-key side extensions, containing garages, porches and sheds. To extend with a typical two-storey pitched-roof building would change this pattern and detract from the prominence of the 1930s house. Instead we proposed a subservient, low pitched roof that would sit below the existing building's eaves and drop down into the slope of the land. This would be clad in dark-stained vertical timber boarding, reminiscent of a number of 1930s modernist buildings - a different style but still contemporary with the original.

The extension sits into the sloping site to protect neighbours' views and daylight

Having consulted neighbours and the planning officer, we carefully explained this strategy through our planning application drawings and Design and Access Statement (DAS). This latter document is often seen as a bit of a token gesture on small scale project like this, but we see it as an opportunity to explain the care we have taken in our design and the various options considered along the way.

Massing options considered during design development

We were successfully able to make a case to go against the planning officer's pre-planning advice to use a pitched roof —  it was a sensible suggestion and not one we rejected out of hand, but by careful analysis of the particular setting of this building we arrived at the conclusion that in this case, a pitched roof would not be the best way to go.

The end result will be a sensitively designed contemporary extension that extends the living space and amenities of the home without impinging on the neighbours or detracting from the proud character of the original house.

 

 

Communicating sketch design ideas to planners

Thibaut Devulder

In our latest collaboration with David Boden, of Boden Associates, we produced a series of visualisations for a twenty-story mixed-use development in central Leicester, UK. These were used as part of an on-going consultation with the local planning authorities.

While this project was still in its sketch design stage, we built and maintained a SketchUp model of the building, based on the 2D drawings (plans and elevations) produced by the design team. As the design evolved, we updated the 3D model to reflect changes and provide visual feedback to the team, allowing them to explore alternative design options and assess visual impact. 

We eventually produced illustrations of the proposed building for presentation to the city planners, who had specific questions about massing and facade treatments. The challenge was to clearly illustrate the design aspects in question, while emphasising the fact that the design was still in progress.

To achieve a subtle blend of sketchiness and detail, we used a hybrid presentation technique combining photorealistic renders of our SketchUp model (using Maxwell render) with hand drawing and photography.

Designing self-build projects for artists

Tom Hughes

A recent project at One Thoresby Street artists studios and gallery gave us a chance to develop new techniques for designing with self-builders.

Artists at the One Thoresby Street gallery, building our design themselves

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.

Can architectural skills help save a local landmark?

Tom Hughes

Tom and Chris have been working with a 'community alliance' in Sneinton, Nottingham.  A local historic building, much loved by the community, is under threat of demolition. We've offered our community engagement and architectural skills to "dOSH" (Development of the Old School Hall) which has formed to find a sustainable use for the site.

Bringing the community together to share knowledge and ideas.

The Old School Hall building dates from the 1840s. Originally a school standing on the boundary between Sneinton and Nottingham, the building served generations of pupils. When in the 1960s a new modern school was opened just up the road, the Old School Hall community centre was created on the site. Many local residents have positive associations with the building as both a school and community centre, so the news that it had closed, and would face demolition, came as a significant blow.

Through his work with Sneinton Neighbourhood Forum, meeting with local Councillors, residents and community groups, Tom helped to arrange a public meeting to bring together all interested people and groups. The strategy was to ensure good information was in the public realm about the threat faced by the building, and to find out whether there was an appetite to try and save the building or to reuse the site for another purpose. The Council had revealed that the building would require a significant investment to make it safe for use and for refurbishment. Despite this, a strong will was identified to try and find a new use for the building, retaining some element of community access whilst securing a viable income stream to maintain the building for the future

Tom attended these meetings and helped the group to come together, structured appropriately as an 'Unincorporated Association' with a clearly defined remit: "To help save the Old School Hall by meeting to discuss feasibility and develop ideas arising from the community to create a business plan". He also researched the history of the site, created posters, spread the word through social media and set up a website and blog for the dOSH group: www.doshsneinton.org.uk

By happy coincidence at this point, Chris was putting the word out to community groups, offering free consultancy as part of his research at Nottingham Trent University. He has been advising the dOSH group on understanding the existing building, seeking advice on the structural stability and condition including liaising with structural engineers and reviewing existing condition reports.

The challenges facing the group are extensive, but the collaborative approach we have helped to foster, in getting organised and understanding both problems and visions, has started things off on the right foot.


The groups represented in dOSH include:

2hD offering free architectural consultancy for community groups

Chris Heuvel

If you are a community group and feel you could benefit from some free advice, please get in touch! As part of my research at Nottingham Trent University, I am exploring the ways in which architects can make links between their business and local communities for the mutual benefit of both. This means I'm in a position to offer my services to a community group, free of charge, to advise them on a particular project. This would need to be undertaken between October 2016 and April 2017.

In particular I am looking for opportunities to work with people on the redesign of spaces and places of community value. This might involve planning issues, landscaping, construction issues or internal reorganisation of spaces — if you make initial contact with me I'd be delighted to discuss your needs and ideas.

As I am doing this in conjunction with Nottingham Trent University, please contact me via my NTU email: chris.heuvel@ntu.ac.uk 

Tom's running in aid of local charity School for Parents

Tom Hughes

I'm running my first half marathon on September 25th to support a great local charity.

All too often, parents of disabled children don’t know where to turn – they may feel isolated, powerless or depressed. School for Parents is based in 2hD's local neighbourhood of Sneinton in Nottingham. Most of their work involves children with motor learning difficulties or motor development delay. They encourage these children to develop basic motor, sensory and self help skills such as sitting, standing, touching, listening, looking, eating and playing. 

A key part of their work is to help parents understand and accept their child’s disability and teach them how to help their child. Staff give parents and siblings the emotional support they need to help them cope, as well as offering practical advice and information.

And I think that's awesome.

If you'd like to help me support this wonderful cause, please visit my Justgiving page and consider making a donation. Thank you!

Update 01/12/16: I completed the run in just under 1 hour 55 minutes, and thanks to my generous sponsors raised £461.43 for the School for Parents! A great experience but, by far, the hardest physical challenge of my life.

Chris interviews Turner Prize winner Assemble

Chris Heuvel

In conjunction with my research into how architects can develop their practice through engagement with members of a community, I will be hosting a talk by Lewis Jones of the 2015 Turner Prize winning collective Assemble

2hD director Chris Heuvel (left) with the speaker from Assemble, Lewis Jones (right)

2hD director Chris Heuvel (left) with the speaker from Assemble, Lewis Jones (right)

My interview will be conducted in public as part of the Norfolk Contemporary Art Society's programme in The Curve Auditorium, Norwich Forum on Wednesday 6th July 2016 at 7:30pm.

For more information, see the NCAS website.

Community inspired architecture

Tom Hughes

I teach with fellow 2hD Director Chris Heuvel at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) and I'm a director of Sneinton Alchemy — a Community Interest Company based in Sneinton, 2hD's local neighbourhood in Nottingham. Sometimes this mix of roles is a bit demanding, but more often than not there's a symbiosis, bringing strength and depth all round.

And so it was with a recently-completed project to design a small community allotment building for the "Growin Spaces" project in Sneinton.

Alchemy has been training a team of Community Organisers over the last few years: dedicated individuals who go out into the community to listen carefully to people on the streets, in pubs, in mosques, churches and homes. They listen to the young and old, to workers, business owners, those in power and the disenfranchised. They build community networks and gradually empower people to take action, follow their dreams and build a stronger community. And it works.

Growin' Spaces

One "proof of the pudding" is the Growin' Spaces project - set up by Stevie Doig. He had an idea about a community allotment which, over time working as a volunteer Community Organiser, he built into a reality. Listening with our team at Alchemy helped him build the mandate he needed to get the wider community on board. This ensured the sustainability of the project and gave him confidence to make broader links and gain important contracts and supply lines.

Now Growin' Spaces has transformed many abandoned allotments into productive growing space, providing work experience and structure for long term unemployed along the way. The project also feeds hundreds of local people each month, using allotment produce and "Fare Share" food wasted by supermarkets.

Low-tech architecture

The success of the project has generated the need for small buildings on site at the allotments. Initially a place to shelter and lock up equipment, this might expand over time to provide a learning space and other facilities. So Stevie asked me, with my 2hD hat on, if I might be able to help him explore design ideas.

I teamed up with Chris and we identified an opportunity at NTU to create an architecture studio student design project. Chris got the students out on to the allotments, meeting Stevie and his volunteers, and pitching-in with some clearance work. This experience inspired them to create imaginative but buildable designs for a small wooden building using low-tech timber framing. 

Stevie and the Community Organiser team then came to NTU to interview the students and select their favourite designs. These projects were displayed at the "Our Sneinton" public event, with a winner being chosen by popular vote. Over the summer, the building will be built!

Great outcomes, including for NTU meeting a number of the objectives of its new Strategic Plan, including "enriching society", "valuing ideas", "creating opportunity" and "empowering people".

So for 2hD, NTU, Sneinton Alchemy and Growin' Spaces, it´s a win, win, win, win situation.

Community inspired architecture at its finest!

Shhh... Library has potential to get lively

Tom Hughes

Alina was at the fantastic Font theatre festival recently, and got chatting to Laura Macrae, a producer with Notts based companies Nonsuch and Sheep Soup. One of those chance encounters that were always meant to happen: Laura with a building and a performance space idea, just looking for an architect... and Alina an architect looking to expand her involvement in the theatre.

We've worked with several arts organisations on the adaptation of existing buildings to meet their needs, most notably at One Thoresby Street. And it is an exciting time for our home neighbourhood on the Eastside of Nottingham: a cluster of independents including OTS, Backlit, Surface Gallery and the Bohunk Institute have led the way and the council is now adding a critical mass via the Creative Quarter and the weighty Dakeyne Street and Sneinton Market redevelopments. Dance4's ambitious dance centre project may be on ice, but the organisation was ahead of the curve in seeing the potential of the area.

We look forward to supporting Laura's plan in the formative stages and — with the support of NTU's Future Factory — hope to work with recent graduates from the Interior Architecture and Design and Theatre Design courses to develop initial ideas for the building. My involvement with community group Sneinton Alchemy and our community engagement expertise will help Laura to make this the supportive and embedded project she aims for.

Watch this space, it won't stay quiet for long...