An existing agricultural shed on the site – once a container for tools and tractors – is now a container for a lifetime collection of books and art. The steel frame and ground slab have been reused and enlarged, retaining the original form of the shed. Newly clad in varied widths of shot-blasted timber and galvanised steel fins, the rhythmic facade reads like the bark of the silver birch that characterise the site.
The surrounding landscape is pulled into the building’s two principle double-height volumes through large axial openings. A long gallery, orientated east-west with the site’s long tree-lined approach, draws visitors in from afar and frames the rising and setting sun from within. A tall south-facing library, bounded by mirror-backed shelving and a light-modulating canopy, evokes a forest clearing in the heart of the house.
The house is a journey of interconnected spaces that alternate between the grand and the intimate. The spacious library is wrapped by a modestly sized living room and three bedrooms, whilst behind the long gallery a thick wall conceals staircase, utility room, and storage. The interplay between single and double height space helps create a great sense of volume and light in a compact plan.
The design accommodated the use of traditional construction techniques and low-cost materials to ensure a challenging budget could be met. Through selective reuse, refined detailing, and the holistic integration of structural, environmental and spatial strategies, ‘Old Shed New House’ is a building that aspires to use the least to make the most.
The building is clad in galvanised steel and rough-sawn then shot-blasted larch to reflect the language of the copse of silver birch trees that the house sits within. The lapped larch boards run horizontally between the vertical steel fins. In order to create a rhythmically patterned façade, the cladding boards vary in height and the bays formed by the fins vary in width. The fins form window and door reveals, structural cantilevering canopies, supports for the solar louvres, roof capping, and the open corner junction (see working detail).
At each corner of the building the end fins of adjacent elevations are brought together on their inside edge. An inset angle is formed, which the capping plate oversails in the roof plane. The detail disguises the bulk of the external wall and roof by revealing only the galvanised steel fin, just 8mm thick.
At ground level, the fin drops into a shingle-filled perimeter drain. Between the shingle and the larch cladding – which is lifted to be protected from weathering – a galvanised steel base plate clads the exposed wall to form an external skirting to the building. At roof level, a concealed gutter is set inside the galvanised steel capping plate. The roof covering is a sedum blanket that finishes flush in the plane of the capping plate.
Tonkin Liu is a design-led architectural practice based in London. The practice has a diverse range of innovative work in architecture, art, and landscape, and has won several awards from the Royal Institute of British Architects. Directors Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu lead the practice in finding the optimal design solutions that are tailored to the specific context of the place and the people, all the while celebrating the human relationship to Nature. We are proud to have won 15 RIBA Awards, which recognise ‘the best architecture in the UK’ and the prestigious Stephen Lawrence Prize for ‘new, experimental architectural talent’. The studio was showcased in Taschen’s ‘40 Under 40’ book on the future of architecture, and our projects have appeared on Channel 4’s ‘Grand Designs’ and ‘House of the Year’. In 2017 the Singing Ringing Tree was named one of the 21 British landmarks of the 21st Century.
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