Knox Bhavan has made a Edwardian terrace whole again, adding a contemporary New York twist
For the last two decades Knox Bhavan has been crafting the most beautiful homes. The materials growing out of the ground, forms projecting into the landscape, curves appealingly hinting at earlier, more hand made construction. Think of the Lake District at Rigg Beck or Holly Barn in Norfolk, which won the Manser Medal. Even in sought after Dulwich, in south London, this model has worked in the form of brick studded College Road.
Elmwood Road demanded a different, urban, discipline. A missing tooth in the smile of a long terrace of pretty Edwardian houses on the edge of Dulwich, the two-dwelling plot occupied by a 1950s block was asking to be taken on. When young solicitor Greg Falzon saw it for sale he thought of buying one of the maisonettes, but on hearing a developer had made a bid for both with the aim of building two new homes he grew more ambitious and bought both himself. Knox Bhavan added a twist of New York to that, dubbing the project Brownstones. Those elegant vertical slices of urbanity gave it permission not to ape the terrace, as so many do, but to bring it a distinct identity that fits the new way of living behind it with its stretching concrete floors and slipped section.
The building is marked out by its reddy brown armature of terracotta sandstone and subtle curves in the peeping gable-ends of its large scale dormer windows. It contains a pair of houses, facing the street with a double bayed frontage. A single stone arch over the front doors ties the neighbours together just as it suggests to the casual eye that this is one spreading home. Instead of the painted white of the street’s Edwardian lintels and sills, these are picked out in white sandstone against the red, the windows frameless. At the centre of the frontage the deeper windows remind you that in Edwardian hands this section would have been recessed back to the main facade. Vents in the bays’ narrow edges have far more chance of being opened for use than do the sash windows of the rest of the street. But inside, the pull-up shutters recall the physical sensation of sashes – and offer a great deal more privacy.
The adapted terrace model continues with staircase arrangement, rising from the hall at the front door where the two plans meet. But here the entry squeeze of those is offset by 3.08m high ceilings and opened up with storey-height double doors into the living room. Rooms at the back sit at half landings, the kitchen dug into the ground, but are nothing like as squeezed as the standard Edwardian bathroom that traditionally occupies that position, and include a bay window asking to be inhabited.
The kinked site is evened up by gifting triangular slivers to the neighbours. This is clearest at the back, where bay windows angle their way out of the timber facade and a jagged canopy of zinc gives way to clear lines of glass. This may have been about buildability – which certainly defeated the first contractor – but the curves, particularly the sensuous grand dormer of the top bedroom, are no doubt equally challenging. Modernism and systems building seem to have excluded curves in many buildings today (bar, of course, the planner-designed corner rotunda). Here, as with Knox Bhavan’s more organic projects, those curves mark out the London Brownstones as product of a different sort of thinking in British architecture and a practice that is dedicated to make its details work in special, unshowy ways.
GIFA (per house) 200m2
Project cost confidential
Cost per m2 £2,600
Annual energy demand and emissions 10.05 kgCO2/m2
Client Greg and Jenny Falzon
Architect Knox Bhavan Architects
Contractor Denis Kostenko Building Services
Structural engineer Price & Myers
Services engineer Paul Bastick Associates
Quantity surveyor Ian Thomson & Company