Mesh House / Alison Brooks Architects

Mesh House / Alison Brooks Architects

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Text description provided by the architects. This project is a rare example of a newly built house in Central London, in the Hampstead Conservation Area. Alison Brooks Architects was commissioned by a private client to design a new model of family home, tailored to the fluid, informal lifestyles of its five family members. The project site is in Belsize Park, Hampstead, one of London’s most characterful neighbourhoods, known for its lush greenery and wide spectrum of domestic architecture. The site is both sloping and wedge-shaped, with a wide frontage that ‘turns the corner ‘ of Belsize Lane. A crucial technical constraint was to ensure 100% daylight was maintained in the windows of neighbouring buildings, requiring careful 3D modelling of the overall building form. This unusual site called for a careful negotiation of the building form both as a piece of the streetscape and as an instrument to create an intimate domestic landscape.

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The client desired a generous and transparent house that took advantage of its primary south-facing orientation. Our design approach was inspired by the character and material of neighbouring Victorian villas, and Hampstead’s grand Arts and Crafts houses, with their pronounced bay windows, animated rooflines and hung terracotta tiled façades. These elements have been abstracted into a series of faceted planes that unify façade, roof and walls. The design was entirely generated in 3D CAD as a polygon mesh to resolve the geometric interfaces between built volume, protected light angles, existing building lines, and topography. The name describes both Alison Brooks Architects’ design tool for this project, as well as the idea of the house as a filter through which light, landscape and human connections are made.

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The key organising principle of the plan is its central courtyard that opens to the south. This courtyard subverts or ‘stretches’ the traditional Victorian archetype of deep plan and imposing orthogonal volume, embedding landscape light at the centre of the plan. The elongated plan and central transparent court allow views through and between internal spaces to its three gardens; front, centre and rear. The house is porous and elongated, not only in plan but in section. Ground, first and second floors are perforated by double and triple-height spaces. Glazed apertures punctuate roof and ground planes. These vertical spaces and transparent planes allow visual and audible connections between floors, capturing views and pulling light into the deepest parts of the house. The architecture allows unexpected moments of connection to the sky and the passing of seasons, two of London’s rarest commodities. Central to the concept and tactile experience of all Alison Brooks Architects houses is the stair. In the Mesh House, the stair is a winding ribbon of steel and timber, reflecting the informal geometry of the house.

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The ground floor is conceived as an extension of the garden; a landscape filtered by transparent glazed screens, brick walls and a single timber-clad volume that acts as a functional ‘spine’. A cantilevered volume marks and shelters the fully glazed entrance foyer. The kitchen spans between the front garden and courtyard, it is a panoramic space both vertically and horizontally. Dining and living spaces flow around the central courtyard, and upward above a living room fireplace – a chimney of light. Five bedrooms, three bathrooms and a mezzanine study are contained within the upper storeys, which are clearly expressed as a private realm. The upper levels are clad in bronze shingles; a contemporary interpretation of the traditional red terracotta tile cladding of adjacent properties. A basement level contains a projection room, steam room, wine cellar, gym and open games area, in addition to utility rooms and a guest bedroom. Light penetrates from the courtyard spaces via walk-on roof lights, plus lightwell with an external basement terrace to draw light into the depth of the plan.

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Following rigorous analysis and testing, bronze was selected as the primary material for the new house, permitting the precise, crisp detailing of the roof, façades, and bay windows to form a unified whole. Detailed as small format hung shingles and set out at 45 degrees, the bronze façade wraps around the building; blurring the boundary between wall and roof, while accentuating the building form. The bronze upper storeys subtly contrast with the brickwork on the side walls of the ground floor level, reflecting the subtle tonal variances of the neighbouring buildings and anchoring the building to the ground. By wrapping the brickwork around the corners and into the building, the garden appears to extend inside the house. The window frames are anodised to match the bronze cladding, reflecting the slim profiles of window frames in adjacent buildings. Our vision was to introduce a new form of contemporary London family home; the linear courtyard house that synthesises unusual site geometry with local history and urban form, bringing light and landscape to the centre of the domestic realm.

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