The RIBA House of the Year winner 2019: House Lessans

 

A bow to simplicity and values rooted in maternal landscapes, House Lessans is the winner of the RIBA House of the Year 2019 award.

RISE House Lessans copyright Aidan McGrath

When we think of contemporary architecture and high-quality design, we often picture modern trends, futuristic looks, and scary budgets. House Lessans reminds us that those preconceptions are just aesthetic preferences. High-quality contemporary architecture is characterised by adhering to larger values that are present throughout our society: acknowledgement of the delicate nature of the environment, an effort to utilise new technologies to drive tangible progress instead of for their own sake, or a shift from admiring grand appearances to appreciating quality.

House Lessans encompasses all of these contemporary values. It does so with a simple and tasteful exterior that nods at the typologies of the setting. The reference to the barns scattered around the Northern Irish landscape is apparent at first glance, and it fits in seamlessly with the subtle design decisions that habilitate a domestic program within the three-building complex. The budget is modest, but in no way compromises the end result.

The interior, equally subdued and graceful, focuses on atmospheric over shock value. The grey blockwork, white plaster, and timber flooring palette is reminiscent of misty farming fields without being literal, and the outdoors is ever-present through the use of natural light and the careful detailing of windows that bring the grassy landscape to the very edge of the rooms.

Looking at the project, it is a pleasure to admire the compositional skills of architect McGonigle McGrath. The result is a monument to architectural language; a true achievement of the art of making and curating.

Image ©  Aidan McGrath

Sketchbook Chronicles N.003

 

– Architecture with a social spin: an initiative for a school in Guatemala from Architecture Sans Frontieres.
– The ancient craft of hand-blown cylinder glass.
– Natural materials for the future: environmentally friendly engineered wood and hempcrete introducing hemp to traditional concrete techniques.
– Goldsmith Street: a new direction for social housing.

You can read the full version of the Sketchbook Chronicles issue N.003 here.

Sketchbook Chronicles N.001

 

– A walk around Walmer Yard to boost our passion for architectural details.
– The Living Architecture initiative: Peter Zumthor’s villa introduced us to this idea by Alain de Botton from the School of Life.
– RISE Rusted Lamp: a wink to our Brexit Bunker.

You can read the full version of the Sketchbook Chronicles issue N.001 here.

Looking back at 2019

 

Happy New Year to all our clients and followers. We finished some really exciting projects in 2019, two of which were shared widely online due to coverage from some of the architecture and design world’s top websites. Douglas House, an extension of a terraced house in Kensal Rise in London, transformed the property into a contemporary and light living space. The second, the ‘Brexit Bunker’, nicknamed by its owner in Kensal Rise, added a garden office and ‘place of serenity’.

Douglas House renovation Kensal Rise London Brexit bunker garden studio Kensal Rise London

Douglas fir-lined extension

“180 metre square project features an oriel window which sits in dialogue with a third-floor reading pod”

Dressed in Danish timber, the family rooms have taken over the ground floor to extend into the garden. The ground floor also houses a carefully designed utility room and built-in larders that extend from the floor and hide in the walls of the living room. On the first floor, the children’s rooms are decorated with wooden details and other natural materials, and the family bathroom is full of natural light. The loft conversion is home to the master bedroom, which has a second half-floor that extends upwards to a reading space from which you can look out over the local area.

The house also features a range of environmental technologies, including high levels of insulation, airtightness, roof-mounted solar panels, a mechanical ventilation heat recovery system, rainwater harvesting, and smart thermostats.

Douglas House renovation Kensal Rise London 2 Douglas House renovation Kensal Rise London 3

We were delighted that this project was featured by:

Architect’s Journal: ‘RISE Design Studio completes Douglas fir-lined extension to London house
ArchDaily: ‘Douglas House/RISE Design Studio
Dezeen: ‘RISE Design Studio adds Douglas fir-lined reading nooks to London house
Architecture Today: ‘RISE Design Studio has maximised the spatial and environmental potential of a semi-detached house in London

An oasis of calm in a busy city

“A calming retreat from the hectic outside world”

The ‘Brexit bunker’ was added to a small garden – although novel, it does not interfere with the property’s existing architecture and the raw aesthetic ties the entire garden together. The walls are built with reclaimed bricks and the interior is clad with birch plywood, giving the space a warm glow when the light reflects from the skylight in the roof. Spanish steps lead towards the roof light and a relaxing space to contemplate life without seeing any visual cues that the structure is in the city rather than the countryside.

Brexit bunker garden studio Kensal Rise London 2 Brexit bunker garden studio Kensal Rise London 3

This project was featured by:

Architizer: ‘The Brexit Bunker, London
designboom: ‘The Brexit Bunker is an oasis of calm in north-west London
Archilovers: ‘Brexit Bunker

You can also read more on our Projects page.

Five residential architecture tricks to introduce light in your home

 

We have heard it time and again: a house with good light is a good house. But what is just as true is that not all properties come with the amounts of natural light we would like to have. That is why architects, engineers and designers have come up with clever ways of allowing those precious rays of sunlight into the very depths of your home. We would like to present to you five different ways to make your home brighter with natural light: from extensions to small renovations, rearrangements, or additions, read below and find out how you can turn that dark living room into a room full of light.

Rooflights

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This is probably the most straight-forward way of bringing in light, and one of the most effective too! Allowing the light to come in from the top will get you more than sunlight: the ambient light from the sky will get inside the room even when the sun isn’t shining, and during all daylight hours. A skylight is your best bet on the rooms just under the roof – we are talking about that dark attic or loft space that has so much uncovered potential… And there’s more! An additional benefit from installing a skylight is that it will significantly increase the head height in the area since the thickness of the glazing is so much less than that of the roof – you could win up to 300mm in height. Not bad, right? All in all, skylights are a universal win-win.

Glazed extensions

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If you are familiar with our projects, you will know that this is one of our favourite strategies. Glazed extensions serve a double purpose: you get more internal floor area in the ground floor, making your living room or kitchen much, much ampler, and you let in an incredible amount of light both in the new extension and in the existing portion of the house that will be connected to it. The positive change that a glazed extension makes to a home never fails to amaze… if you’re thinking of making a single change to your home, this may be the one that gives you the most value.

Room reconfigurations

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Room reconfigurations are a small way of making a potentially big difference. If your room is dimly lit, make sure that your furniture faces the light and that there is nothing blocking its path. If there is a room that receives no light at all, think about getting rid of the wall that separates it from the next, better lit, room. This will require some tweaking in terms of use and furniture, but sometimes replacing a wall with a shelf or a soft partition allows you to retain the differentiation between the rooms without having to give up all the natural light in one of them.

Internal windows

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It may be counterintuitive to have a room with a window into another room, but this strategy can be really helpful for getting some light into the heart of the house. It is particularly helpful for rooms like bathrooms, or utility rooms: a frosted window into a naturally-lit corridor or into an adjacent room will take care of letting some soft natural light in without compromising privacy. What’s more, it will make the room feel bigger too, and you can take advantage of the new opening and use it as a shelf. Simple but effective!

Sun tunnels

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This technology is slowly finding its way into the residential world, and it is a very clever solution for those rooms in which you thought it was just not possible to have sunlight. Here’s how: a flue-like tube pops up over the roof, all clad in highly reflected panels that are angled in such a way that the light that reflects on them from the top bounces downwards to hit the next panel, and so on. What you have, in the end, is a game of mirrors that can bring the same sunlight you have at roof level down to seven stories below. This can work for ground floor kitchens, isolated rooms at the centre of the house, and even basements.

Embracing imperfection: wabi-sabi and Japanese aesthetics

 

Here at RISE Design Studio, you could say that wabi-sabi is “part of our DNA”. A world view that stems from Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi is the acceptance of transience and imperfection. It can include asymmetry and simplicity, as well as an appreciation of the integrity of natural objects and processes. Or, put simply, it is all about celebrating the beauty of a naturally imperfect world.

Wabi sabi RISE Design Studio architect west london

Natural and light

A wabi-sabi house is filled with air and light. Soft, natural lines allow us to find beauty in asymmetry, and a strong connection with nature is achieved through natural materials such as wood, stone and clay. Wabi-sabi also seeks to reduce the number of objects in the home that we don’t need, without making the home feel cold or sterile (a house is, after all, a place to be lived in). The spaces are warm and welcoming, thanks to the use of natural colours and materials, particularly wood and stone. Colours also tend to be inspired by nature, bringing balance and serenity to the home.

Embracing imperfection and authenticity

Wabi-sabi has cultural and historic links with the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. If you haven’t experienced this, the atmosphere is generally calm and relaxing with simple routines that centre on the tea. Often, the crockery used in the ceremony is faded or damaged, as a result of being passed down the generations. A fantastic example of wabi-sabi is the art of ‘kintsugi’, which is where cracked pottery is filled with a form of gold-dusted lacquer to showcase the beauty of its age, rather than hiding it.

In the home, choosing authentic furnishings creates a lived, harmonious space. Sourcing furniture that has been passed down through the generations allows each scratch to add to the narrative of that object’s history. It also alllows us to turn away from the ‘throwaway’ culture that we are learning is so damaging to our environment, to appreciate the ‘true and humble’ that wabi-sabi emulates.

Existing in the now

Wabi-sabi can also be applied to your daily life. It is a state of mindfulness which involves ‘living in the now’ and finding satisfaction even when it’s easy to think the opposite. If you trace wabi-sabi all the way back to its roots, the Buddhist teachings of the ‘Three Marks of Existence’ would guide you to embrace impermanence, acknowledge that suffering is a part of life that can ultimately lead to growth, and accept that we are always in a state of flux.

In times when we might constantly compare ourselves to others, there is no harm in taking the time to appreciate what we have. It is this mindfulness and appreciation of the ‘now’, with all its imperfections, that we try to capture in our work.

What is Building Information Modelling (BIM)?

 

Building Information Modelling (or ‘BIM’) is a way to create and mange information about a construction project throughtout the project’s lifecycle. The main output is the ‘Building Information Model’, a digital depiction of all aspects of the project. Not only is BIM innovative in the way it allows the building process to be optimised, it also offers a platform for collaboration between everyone involved in the project. In this short post, we write a bit more about BIM and why it is a useful tool for the modern architect.

Buidling Information Modelling architect west london

More than just a 3D image

BIM can mean different things to different people – it really depends on what you are using it for. However, it is generally understood that it is more than ‘just a piece of software’ that creates a 3D geometry of the structure. It also provides a series of co-ordinated processes that provide all of the information about the structure seen in the image.

In practice, this means that a BIM provides more than just a digital representation of the building, as it is made up of objects that are related: the building itself; the spaces that make up the building (rooms, hallways, etc.); the systems in the spaces (heating, plumbing, etc.); the products that make up the spaces (furniture, appliances, etc.); and the relationships between the objects.

Enabling collaboration

Another key function of BIM is that it can help a design and construction team communicate and work together well with one another, their client(s) and the public, to deliver real benefits. By building the digital design first, the team can be confident that all the elements fit together properly, avoiding unexpected difficulties in the actual build process. The digital design requires input from the architect, structural engineer, services engineer, etc., before handing over the information to the construction team.

Confident construction

There are also benefits for the construction team. When purchasing materials, detailed specifications can be extracted quickly from the model, and information about how materials should be installed/maintained can also be included.Rather than this information being kept in hard copy brochures, the model acts as a central database for all queries.

The model can also be handed over to the owner of the building so that it can be used for reference in the future (e.g. for refurbishment).

Managing risk

By understanding the project really well, any risks are significantly reduced. Today’s building projects can be very complicated – the more that everyone understands each other’s needs (e.g. design team, subcontractors, owners, etc.), the less risk there is. This also has positive effects on profitability and the level of customer service delivered to clients.

How much does it cost to build a house?

 

We’re often asked how much it costs to build a house. This is a difficult question to answer: every new build has its own requirements and new build costs depend on a range of factors. In reality, it is possible to have an accurate estimate of the price when all of the drawings and work schedules have been completed. However, there are a number of variables and issues that you can take into account to gain a sense of price before then. We’ve outlined these below.

New build london architect

Location and design

Construction costs vary depending on the location of the site in the country. Central London will be a lot more expensive than elsewhere. For a new build home designed by an architect in London or the South East, current minimum construction costs tend to be in the region of £1,750 per square metre, with land acquisition and professional fees on top of this. Where other issues apply (and we’ll come to these next), this figure is likely to increase to a minimum of £2,000 per square metre.

The design of the property can also have an impact on the cost. It is important to use an architect who has a track record of designing houses that are within your budget (see examples on our Projects page). Where the highest quality finishes are required, the cost per square metre may rise to £4,000 (and more).

Factors that increase costs

It is likely that several other factors will apply to the project which will lead to higher costs. Examples include: party walls; difficult site access; specialist foundation requirements; non-standard forms of construction (e.g. cross-laminated timber); large areas of glazing rather than walls; and high spec kitchens and bathrooms.

There are a number of fees that will also need to be taken into account:

– Purchase costs (price of the sale, solicitor’s fees, survey, Stamp Duty Land Tax);
– Finance costs (relating to any borrowing and associated interest rates); and
– Consultant costs (these will also vary depending on the size and nature of the project – architect, structural engineer, inspectors, etc.).

Factors that decrease costs

There are a number of tax benefits for new build houses which can offset some of the above costs. Stamp duty is calculated on the value of the land only, which is typically less than the value of the land with an existing home on it. Community Infrastructure Levies can be considerable (especially in London) but new self-build properties are usually exempt from this (in line with certain residency terms). VAT is also not payable on the construction costs of a new build house and, assuming the house will be the principle private residence, Capital Gains Tax is not payable if you make a profit at the point of sale.

If you are interested in exploring the cost of a new build project with RISE Design Studio, please get in touch.

Parallels: boat building and architecture

 

Several well-known architects (Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid, John Pawson, Frank Gehry, to name a few) have turned their hand to designing and building boats, and it is now common to find boat building technology and materials (such as custom composites) in modern building structures. Floating architecture is also becoming more and more popular. There seem to be natural parallels between the skills of the architect and the boatbuilder, particularly in the crafting of a wooden structure to create a functional and beautiful end result.

RISE-Boat-John Pawson

Making sense of lines

To the boatbuilder, ‘lofting’ is the creation of full-size topographical maps of a boat’s hull that allows the builder to make all the molds, patterns, parts and pieces accurately. The process of ‘laying down the lines’ is relatively similar to practices that go back to the 17th century, generating curved lines for the streamlined hull and keel of a vessel. Lines can be drawn on wood and the wood then cut for advanced woodworking. Today, boatbuilders, like architects, use computer-aided lofting to fine tune designs and produce a set of full-sized lines.

Following architectural conventions, a ‘lines plan’ slices through the boat in several directions and can be combined with a ‘table of offsets’. This contains reference points used in a similar way to latitude and longitude on maps to allow the use of coordinates to find specific points on the hull. This then allows the full scale model to be built.

Symmetry and alignment

Like architects, boat builders are focussed on what looks good. Subtle attention to detail, symmetry and proportion don’t necessarily make a boat float better but they do affect the appearance of the vessel. The ‘sheerline’ is the subtle and graceful curve that defines the uppermost edge of the hull. This is probably the most important feature on a boat and is often difficult to get ‘right’. Often, a 2D drawing of the sheerline will not look as attractive in three dimensions as the paper drawing cannot take into account real-life perspective.

Simple things like how screws line up are also important. Lined-up slots impart understated elegance, while randomly aligned slots might look unattractive.

Keeping with tradition

Wooden boat building has been described as “the quintissential industry“. Over time, boatbuilders will have found that certain woods are more suitable than others, and that locating sources for materials can be a challenge. This is a challenge also experienced by the architect who wishes to uses local materials to retain the sense of place and context of the structure.