With the latest edition of the annual RIBA Research Symposium coming up in just a few weeks’ time, we’re taking the opportunity to focus on some interesting domestic retrofit projects. The Symposium “Home Truths” on Thursday 4 October will look at issues of sustainability, conservation and design quality in relation to the refurbishment of existing housing stock. Tickets are £96 for RIBA members, £120 for non-members, and £30 for students – visit the webpage for more information and to book, or call 020 7307 3714.

Phil Coffey will be talking at Home Truths about the residential work Coffey Architects have done in Islington and the surrounding areas. Here is a taster of his presentation:

The complex urban grain of Islington offers many housing types however there are some consistent themes. In section, Islington homes tend to be top-heavy for modern living (lots of bedrooms with little living space). The middle room on the ground floor of terraced houses is often underused and isolated; and a connection to the garden where significant value lies in both lifestyle and financial terms is generally top of the client wish list.

Our architectural responses to the above issues can be summarised by reconsidering circulation for the entire home and any rear/basement extensions, the use of perspective lines that are perceived to extend to the sky or to the garden, the resolution of structure, services and space to carve new light into the heart of the plan and the use of glazing to connect the living spaces to the gardens of existing homes. Three examples are noted below.

Court House is located on Danbury Street, a short walk off Upper Street. A three storey end of terrace family home. The project removes a double garage and in its place creates an ‘underground’ living area and study/bedroom with en-suite. The new living space has a roof which offers a decked garden to the existing home. A dream in planning terms, the removal of car spaces and the addition of significant amenity space for the family. This subterranean space feels spacious and light, it does not feel like it is ‘underground’ and it doubles the living space in the home.

The Modern Terrace is located on Whistler Street, Highbury Terrace. The project is a lesson in dimensions and reinforcing the middle of the plan. The staircase climbs through three storeys in the middle of the house, narrowed by the use of stainless steel rope for balustrading which then allows along with the removal of the chimney breast for a double bed in the middle upstairs room, 150mm can mean a lot when transforming existing homes. The open stair also allows for a natural ventilation strategy in these small homes that can overheat in the summer.

Up to Finsbury Park, on the borders of Islington, Folded House is a detached house which occupies a prominent but difficult triangular site. A new entrance is created between the detached house and end of terrace to Lancaster Road. Passing through the lobby area a three storey plywood square spiral stair folds upwards to a massive skylight above. The route continues below the stair towards a nature view, through the kitchen and is terminated by a suggested turn towards the newly configured garden. The project explores the use of geometry to express new and old, the new folded geometry is stitched into the cartesian geometry of the existing house through the use of a third ‘irritant’ geometry of recessed lighting.

Adapting existing homes for modern living has its limits. The scale and complexity of extensions is often challenged at planning stage. Permitted development rights when applicable are helpful however we have found that any planning applications are now judged on their relation to what would be applicable under permitted development, even if these rules do not apply i.e. planning departments are less likely to give permission under planning for anything other than would have been acceptable under permitted development. The new permitted development rights will help this situation as 3m extension to the rear of a number of properties is often not deep enough to meet our clients requirements, the suggestion of an increase of 6-8m will make life significantly easier for a large percentage of our residential work.

Creating good architecture, working with clients, contractors and consultants at this scale requires a great deal of trust in order to get through the difficult periods within a project. Working specifically on existing buildings requires a great deal more flexibility on site and requires a more intensive relationship with the project team. The time spent on projects and the difficult periods lead to strong relationships that have allowed us to benefit from a lot of referral work.

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1 Comment
  1. Residential architect

    October 20, 2012

    “The complex urban grain of Islington offers many housing types however there are some consistent themes. In section, Islington homes tend to be top-heavy for modern living (lots of bedrooms with little living space). The middle room on the ground floor of terraced houses is often underused and isolated; and a connection to the garden where significant value lies in both lifestyle and financial terms is generally top of the client wish list.

    Our architectural responses to the above issues can be summarised by reconsidering circulation for the entire home and any rear/basement extensions, the use of perspective lines that are perceived to extend to the sky or to the garden, the resolution of structure, services and space to carve new light into the heart of the plan and the use of glazing to connect the living spaces to the gardens of existing homes.”

    Spot. On. This is some of the best analysis I have ever read in regards to this house type, and it applies to the vast majority of Victorian houses (and converted flats) in London.

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