The project clients are both artists and wished to create a new live-work dwelling specific to both their needs and to the magnificent sloping rural site in the Forest of Dean on the border between England and Wales.   

The brief was to produce a purpose-built, environmentally sustainable replacement dwelling, with two purpose designed artist studios. The building was to be contemporary and environmentally responsible, to respond sensitively and yet positively to the landscape, creating a timeless, quality architectural solution embedded into the site. Sitting ‘in it’ rather than ‘on it’.

The site lies in a sensitive rural location North of Chepstow in the Forest of Dean. It occupies 4.26 acres on a south facing, gently sloping, wooded hillside. From within the site, there are panoramic views looking towards the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Views of the River Wye to the south west and to the bottom of the valley to the south are hidden by trees, but it is possible to see far across both valleys to the opposite fields and woodlands. Accordingly, by virtue of its location, the property is visible from significant distances and the proposal had to be very carefully handled in terms of elevational treatment and massing. Although the existing house could only truly be viewed when positioned far across the opposite side of the valley, it was seen as an opportunity with a new proposal, to integrate the design more sensitively into the landscape to minimise visual impact.

The site is occupied by 3No. existing buildings originally built around of the latter half of the nineteenth century. A main two-storey house and 2No. single-storey stone barn outbuildings. The existing house had been subject to the additions of pebble-dash render and uPCV windows over recent years as well as a number of poor quality, ad-hoc extensions to the side, rear and front elevations. Following careful site analysis and survey, the floor plans clearly indicated that within was contained the thicker walls of the original stone farmhouse underlining how the old cottage had been lost amongst the more recent adaptations. Stripping away the plaster and render revealed the original stonework of the house. The key conceptual idea that developed was the method of integrating the existing original 3No. stone buildings into the new dwelling.

Retaining the best portions of the original buildings allows the history to remain legible, providing a historical anchor grounding the new building, as well as giving meaning and relevance to its placement on the site. It also represented a good decision on environmental grounds, retaining and reusing the existing buildings to serve as structural elements within the new property, supporting the new single-storey roof plain which extends over and ‘binds’ the three original elements under a single, continuous canopy. This new flat roof is treated as an extension of the upper meadow to the North, being turfed and planted, and merging seamlessly into it, serving as a highly insulated, intensive green roof.

The stonework of the existing buildings is retained up to a single storey level, adapted and integrated into the new building under the single-storey roof. Frameless glazing and highly insulated timber clad external walls continuously wraps around the existing buildings enveloping them within the new building. This results in the external stone wall faces of the existing structures becoming the internal walls of the new property. The outside becomes the inside. The roofs of the existing buildings are to be removed, creating external courtyards, open to the elements within the new building, from what had been formerly the enclosed interior spaces.

To the South the principal visible elevation of the new building comprises a simple, elegant composition of a single roof line and a single floor slab line, infilled between by a combination of dark, black, burnt timber clad walls and glazed panels. The elevation is extensively fragmented by the dense, mature tree and hedge planting which exists across the length of the frontage. Similarly, the two side elevations are also low lying, carefully nestled into, and emerging out of, the rear bank.

The internal layout is organised primarily around a single central ‘Road’ which runs through the house. This not only acts as the main circulation space but also forms a gallery space for the exhibition of paintings, drawings and sculpture. It also essentially divides the domestic spaces to the South of the road from the work environment and services located to the North side. The interior is loosely organised into 4No. interconnecting zones- Living, Sleeping, Working and Service zones separated and defined not only by the central road but also the three internal courtyards.

The sustainable technologies incorporated into the dwelling include whole house ventilation with ground to air heat exchanger, solar hot water panels, rainwater harvesting, air source heat pump and photo voltaics. Further key requirements of the brief include a very high standard of insulation, air tight construction and natural daylighting, gained from extensive flush roof glazing and the internal courtyard spaces bringing light into the deep plan earth-shelter construction.

The proposal is primarily, a landscape scheme. The architecture is to subservient to nature. The most prevalent ‘material’ is the planting to be used for the roof areas which merge with the surrounding ground to create a seamless landscaped surface, obscuring the buried edges of the building

The proposed dwelling is hidden from view. The footprint is increased, but the visual impact is considerably reduced. It sits within the site, not ‘on it’. Its form is derived from the site and not from a pre-conceived architectural intervention.

The project was granted Full Planning Permission in March 2012 and construction commenced on site in January 2013.