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Private Residence

Tonkin Liu Architects

Young architects have traditionally created most of their ingenious design tricks for private clients. In a residential neighbourhood of London not noted for its architectural gems or vistas, is a house and a studio for two creative people. Unlike 99.9% of its neighbours, it is experimental, playing with the idea of ‘looking and being looked at’, and with the language of modernism. An exercise in architectural subversion, it is all the more powerful in its anonymous context. Two light structured buildings gaze at each other across a stretch of water, each reflecting a larger, more open-ended story about the other. Designed by architects Mike Tonkin and  Anna Liu, a young practice founded in 1994, now named Tonkin Liu, this narrative creates an architecture about self-awareness, exposure and embellishment.  On the face of it these might seem contrasting conditions. Yet here, the architecture shows the connections between them to be much more fluid than might be supposed.
Set on a long and narrow leftover urban plot, the buildings are very lightweight, without foundations. Two concrete boxes with stressed skin structures, they resulted from a kit of parts which were bolted together on a disused airfield. A courtyard of shallow water divides the buildings with their gently sloping roofs. Reminiscent of a Chinese court house, a high sided colonnade and a 40 metre long low building with  an office flank the water. The studio at the far end of the water is clearly the smaller of the two, but it stands considerably higher than these linear ‘wings’, and the house is reflected at a smaller scale in its glass front. The courtyard widens towards the studio, creating the impression that it is at a shorter distance to the house than the other way round.
Each building is an essay in perceiving proportion, framing the viewer and his or her actions, and, in turn, the act of viewing, almost voyeuristically. This dualism operates in the relationship between the buildings...

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