‘It had a real coherence to it, and it had that relationship with the old. It wasn’t just an extension; it was a route through the building, and it was spatially really interesting. It worked incredibly well, architecturally‘ – Tom Foxall, Head of Region for London and South East, Historic England, and Don't Move, Improve! 2021 Judge.
The owners, a retired couple, approached Studio Ben Allen to reconsider the piecemeal rear façade of their end-of-terrace Victorian house in north London and to provide a new kitchen and two new bathrooms — one to be on the ground floor and accessible.
Studio Ben Allen were encouraged by the client to use the project as a testbed for ideas. Led by architects Omar Ghazal and Ben Allen, they used the project as a vehicle to push the boundaries of off-site fabrication — something that they felt was lacking in smaller-scale residential or alteration projects.
The House Recast is a spatially rich project to create an extension to a house in Haringey of in situ concrete made in Cornwall and craned into place, with all the time-savings that entails. But it is also a lesson in creating views through and elegant, connecting spaces as a ‘mature narrative’ whilst celebrating materials at the same time. The primary exterior structure is expressed in a light green hue, itself a test of using pigmented, graduating-patterned concrete, partially to hark back to some of the Victorian structures in the neighbourhood, and offset by a salmon coloured-infill. The rear elevation includes a louvred window to bring light into a new ‘Hammam-like’ bathroom wetroom pod with bespoke brass handles and spouts and stripped back ironmongery setting off a green bench plus a concrete bathtub pre-cast in Kent. Another louvred ceiling alongside brings dappled light from above onto many interior fittings and floor also made of concrete in the kitchen, with a small hatch connecting kitchen to living room. The kitchen leads through up some steps into a ‘light touch’ dining room with a table designed by the practice. From here there are views back out through another arch to the garden and up to a second arched window above at the top of a new double-height volume and mezzanine reading ‘nook’. This in turn connects to the house’s main stair, whose balustrade was also designed off site as a kit of parts. The motif on this balustrade relates to the pattern on the concrete. Yet another new archway leads back from dining room to entrance hallway to living room and back through the ‘peephole’ hatch.
‘That was one of the themes; trying to create connection points throughout the house’, said architect Ben Allen. ‘The client gave us a lot of freedom. In our concepts we don’t talk about materials at all but in this case, we did talk about it being concrete, but we hadn’t investigated it, so it was more about making these connections, with the double-height space and making all these views, establishing views both axial and diagonal views through the house’. The scheme is also an exemplary case for a small, emerging practice investigating the advantages and limitations of using concrete – although building it in four days was ‘quite intense’. What is more, says Allen, it was also a way of furthering the practice’s interest in stretching clients’ budgets to what they did not think they could afford to build – in essence through using off-site and other ‘interesting ways of building things’. ‘It’s definitely been a journey’, Allen adds.
Homeowners Russel and Allen and architects and overall winners: Ben Allen and Omar Ghazal and Tom Richardson, Studio Ben Allen