Introduction & Client’s brief - In 2009 the client purchased an existing ruin in the South Downs and held a limited architectural competition for a new family house. Their brief sought tranquil yet playful spaces, local natural textures, contrasts, in a home that was not obvious and optimized the beautiful landscape views.
The Architectural Composition - The design is in the genre of English country houses enjoying an unfolding sequence of spaces and views and composed of simple geometric forms nestling within the landscape. A promenade is established which reveals changing experiences of the arcadian surroundings: It commences at the circular arrival court, extends via an oak pergola through the inner garden court, in which the ruin stands as a romantic verdant folly, to the cylindrical entrance hall. The internal circulation flows from the entrance hall and guest wing stair along the entrance façade and across the 'Foudre' dining hall to connect with a further staircase. This leads to the roof garden which enjoys a panoramic view of the valley and bridges to the hillside to complete the promenade into the landscape.
The house is divided into two wings, one for the family and one for guests, to satisfy the clients contradictory brief which required space for their American relatives, while not intruding on their family life. The wings are linked by a large 'foudre' barrel inspired dining hall at the heart of the architectural promenade, which is aligned on the ruin entrance and has fully opening glazing connecting the inner entrance court to an informal south facing sunken terrace. Two cylindrical towers containing the entrance hall and primary staircase are placed symmetrically either side of the Foudre.
Planning Constraints - Downley House is located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, now designated as The South Downs National Park, and therefore a sensitive and inclusive approach was adopted. A previous proposal to refurbish and extend the existing ruin was granted planning approval in June 2007. The new house is of similar size and height to the earlier approval but set further back from the ruin. Following consultation with East Hampshire District Council, The South Downs National Park and Buriton Parish Council, the final application was submitted in March 2010 and permission was granted in May 2010.
Method of Construction and Materials - The concrete ground slab and retaining walls were erected first. The main structure of the house was then constructed from pre-fabricated cross laminated timber (CLT) wall and floor panels, which were craned into place in six weeks. The guest and family wings used flat CLT panels, lined with insulation and clad with either local stone, timber or render. The ‘Foudre’ has laminated timber ribs over which curved CLT panels create a structural shell covered with insulation and a copper roof. This innovative sustainable construction enabled the full envelope to be quickly established and sealed to facilitate internal fitting out.
Procurement and Programme - The client was assisted by project managers and a site manager to organise procurement and managed the construction process himself, directly appointing sub contractors using packages of information prepared by the design team. The client created a non-conflictual atmosphere wherein all energies were directed towards efficiently creating an extremely high quality home. He sought that all builders and craftsmen ‘take ownership’ of their work, be proud of their ideas, skills and the final quality. Where appropriate, the client prioritised the quality of the craftsmanship over speed of construction.
Work began on site in June 2010, and the client moved in for Christmas 2011 with all outstanding work completed by April 2012. There were no major setbacks to programme, other than a few weeks lost due to snow restricting use of the steep and narrow access road.
Cost - The client maintained close control over the building budget, programme and procurement. He effectively undertook the role of main contractor and sought appropriately competitive subcontracts. As a result the project was very cost effective and was completed to his overall budget of £2.5 million.
Sustainability & Inclusiveness – The house employs natural and locally sourced materials, a prefabricated timber structure and sophisticated environmental strategy to create a very low energy home. A combination of high insulation with good air sealing, earth tubes, mechanical ventilation with heat recovery and a ground source heat pump ensured no additional energy was required for heating last winter. The house has made a unique design contribution in the South Downs, generating positive interest within the local community including hosting an educational day for Ditcham Park School pupils to learn about the environmental and ecological technologies used.