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Downley House

Lead Designers
Prize(s)Bronze in Architecture Categories / New Residential Building
Entry Description

In 2009 the client, a wine lover, purchased an existing ruin in the South Downs and held an architectural competition for a new family house. They sought a house with tranquil yet playful spaces, of natural textures, contrasts, and indigenous materials. The other competitors proposed either refurbishing or demolishing the existing ruin and building a new, but compromised, house. Birds Portchmouth Russum Architects took an alternative approach and set the new house behind the ruined wall to create an inner courtyard garden that provides privacy from the neighbouring houses.

The design is in the genre of English country houses enjoying a procession of gradually unfolding views to simple forms embedded in the landscape. The house is divided into two wings, one for the family and one for guests, linked by a large 'foudre'-barrel inspired dining hall at the heart of a sequence of spaces from the circular arrival courtyard through the house and into the landscape beyond.

The structure employs pre-fabricated cross laminated timber (CLT) panels which were craned into place over six weeks: the guest and family wings use flat CLT panels, lined with insulation and clad with stone, oak boarding or render. The ‘Foudre’ has laminated timber ribs with curved CLT panels to create a structural shell covered with insulation and a copper roof.

The house is an exemplar of sustainable design. A ground source heat pump array beneath the adjacent meadow combined with a heat recovery air system has ensured that no energy was required to heat the house through the winter; the CLT structure is a low carbon material and oak and stone cladding materials were sourced locally to reduce the embodied energy and support the local economy. Green roofs support bio diversity and help meld the house into the landscape and new wild-flower meadow beyond.