AR Design Studio finds Dorset’s unstable ground is better worked with than against with a new house called The Crow’s Nest
Take the basic form of a long, low house. Imagine it has been broken into pieces by the ground shifting. Take the pieces and reassemble them to make a different kind of house, visibly containing the memory of having been broken. This is The Crow’s Nest, by Winchester-based architect AR Design Studio. It might seem just a whiffly architectural conceit but in a way this was what really happened. There was a house here that broke, just not this one. This house remembers the one that did, while simultaneously taking precautions against it happening again.
It turns out that coastal houses can be in danger even if they are not teetering on a cliff edge. Here on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast near Lyme Regis, a long area of coastline is a landslip zone where cracks have an alarming habit of opening up in the ground some distance from the sea. At first the architects’ commission was an extension to an existing holiday home for a young family with two children and a dog. But this was still at the planning stage when the home in question broke its back one night as the earth fractured beneath it. That was during the torrential rains of January and February 2014.
The architects – project architect Christopher Terry and partner Andy Ramus – found themselves with a new brief: build a new house instead. On the same site. And, obviously, make it strong. The appearance of fracture is therefore deceptive, as this little house with its central living/dining area and bedroom/bathroom blocks to each side is also an engineering solution to future structural failure, the engineer being Eckersley O’Callaghan. The architect describes it thus: ‘A concrete slab was built into the ground, a series of strategically placed dwarf walls were then built on top of it. A floating structural frame was then laid on top of the walls to act as an adjustable raft in case of future movement. Beneath the frame, there are specific places for mechanical jacks to be positioned so the house can be securely re-levelled.’
So a new ‘ground’ has been made which is designed to be able to move, with the house constructed above that as a series of four linked, adjustable larch-clad timber-frame pods – with the odd steel beam where needed. This is a permanent building that borrows ideas from temporary volumetric buildings that require levelling on a firm base. The four pods consist of the entrance, main living space including kitchen, dining and living room (with panoramic views out over the sea via sliding glass and verandah); a two-storey ‘tower’ with family bedrooms and a single-storey guest wing to the east that can be closed off when not in use. All this sits with its back against a steep wooded slope.
From starting on site in December 2015 the house was completed exactly a year later. It is relatively modest but in its form it carries the expression of a trauma overcome. ‘We hope it will last many generations to come – we’re highly confident the engineering will work as expected and keep the house safe should any more land movement occur,’ says the practice, and we hope it’s not crossing its fingers. A clean break with the past, you might say. Nicely done, AR Design Studio.
Size GIA 180m2
Contractor Mew Developments
Engineer Eckersley O’Callaghan
Tiles Stone and Ceramic Warehouse
Bathroom furniture Bathroom Warehouse Winchester
Kitchen The Myers Touch
Timber cladding Russwood