Contextual brick and generous glazing act with a mix of bold and subtle internal moves to create a fully functioning family dwelling at Fieldworks Architects' reconfigured and extended Stockport house
Who is the project for and what was the brief, including any specific requirements?
Tim Gibbons: Brick House is a family home. The clients have two relatively young children. It is an extension and remodelling of a 1950s property, which had already been extended in an ad hoc way over the years. The client bought the house for its location and large garden, but felt that there was no connection to the garden and that the layout meant that they were spending a lot of time on the one side of the house, particularly in the kitchen area and not using the width of the property. The client wanted us to review that and add some bedrooms and bathrooms for the children, a snug, small gym area and garage. The project is one of the first we did after setting up the practice in 2018 - there was a lot to include and reconfigure.
Describe the project, including its context, the building it extends and the work that has been done?
Tim: The house is in the green belt south of Manchester on the edge of Stockport. It’s along a road of detached homes that have all been renovated in different ways over the years.
James Owen: The main focus was to extend the project to the rear, replacing and bringing together previous extensions. At the front of the house, various parts have been infilled to create wings for new spaces, like the gym and cinema room as well as a garage. Downstairs, the plan has been reconfigured around a central axis from the front door to the rear of the house to the garden. Upstairs a bedroom has been added to the rear, and it has been renovated internally.
What was the planning context/situation?
Tim: We had quite a long design and planning process to find the right solution. The green belt presented some challenges, in green belt you are only allowed to enlarge the volume by a certain amount, so we had to justify our proposed increase, which was more than the preferred 33%. We used a 'very special circumstances' justification to argue that the proposals did not cause material harm in the context of local precedent and the development of homes on the street. We did a fair amount of historical analysis of the original footprint as part of this work. It was felt that the proposals improved the existing building, and did not increase the width or height of the existing property or cause 'significant change', and therefore did not impact the openness of the green belt.
Explain the external treatment of the project?
James: The upper part of the front has been rendered to bring together the various infills and extensions, so the original brickwork is no longer visible. At ground floor level, we wrapped the house in bricks so it would all feel like one element. So, for example, in the original front bay, we carefully replaced the brickwork to make the house homogenous and get rid of the messiness.
Tim: At the rear, the existing building was a bit like a fortress with tiny windows. One of the key design decisions to was to provide a visual and physical link from the internal spaces to the outside. The front remodelling tried to respond to its context, whereas the rear is more contemporary, continuing the brick round from the front.
The brick wraps like a ribbon down and around the extension to unify the elevations and pull the previous extensions into one element. However, we also wanted this brick element to fold and wrap around in such a way as to respond to the internal functions. So, for example, in front of the kitchen the brick ribbon becomes a herb planter. Then there are larger openings in front of the living room to encourage an outside/inside connection. In front of the dining area, the brick ribbon turns into a raised bench externally. Finally, it becomes the chimney that separates the living and dining areas, and visually divides the uniformity of the external elevation.
James: Another point was how to get light into the deeper areas of the plan. We did this by adding a continuous rooflight that separates the existing building and the extension. It also helps rationalise the structure.
The choice of brick was also key. We explored various shapes, sizes and tones so we could balance the glass with a bit of warmth and texture. We chose an Ibstock brick that is available in both standard and linear sizes so we could use the standard ones on the front and then switch to linear at the rear to complement the long-elongated extension. They are a multi-red brick to reflect those found in the Manchester area.
Explain how the interiors have been designed?
Tim: When we first looked at the project, we wanted to find a way to use the full width of the house. We did it by generating a central axis through the front door that led towards the garden, then divided the space into clear zones: kitchen, dining and sitting areas. At the centre of the rear extension is the fireplace, which is double-sided and acts as a pivot, helping to break up the space, as well as providing the structural support for such a wide span. There are various other ways we divided the space. For example, the living area is slightly sunken so it is level with the garden and has an oak herringbone floor, whereas the kitchen and dining area are tiled using concrete-effect tiles.
Describe one challenge and how you overcame it?
James: One challenge was the setting out of the brickwork on the rear elevation. Some of it is vertical and some horizontal to add texture and depth. The work was in meticulously setting out all the bricks across the rear. It was like a jigsaw puzzle, co-ordinating it with the steelwork and support structure.
Tim: We used the Nexus Ibstock brick slip system and soffit system. We had to set that out too and co-ordinate with the engineer and the glazing company to ensure the flush alignment of the internal ceiling and recess track for the glazing. It was all crucial to the success of the elevation. The original diagram of the ribbon of brick was essential to explaining the importance of it. We had to encourage the contractor.
The deep soffit helps with solar shading and shelter so that even if it's raining you can step out or open the doors from the kitchen area to get some herbs.
James: The glazing between the dining area and the living space was another challenge. Because of the brick bench in front of the dining area, the glazing there is not full-height, like it is in the living area. We had to find a way to split the glazing and make it meet with its different heights. It opens out from this connection in the middle. We worked with the manufacturer to find a solution for the junction in the corner where the glazing drops down to floor level that would be secure and weathertight.
Explain your favourite detail/moment in the project?
Tim: There are a number of things in the rear facade that work nicely. The connection to the garden, for example, and the clients’ experience of that has been really successful. It looks a lot nicer now as the plants have grown higher and it feels like the garden is right on the edge of the elevation. We also like where the brickwork changes direction.
Explain which aspect would you do again next time, and what wouldn’t you?
Tim: In terms of what we would do, we definitely approach our projects in a similar way in terms zoning of spaces and how they're articulated on the elevation. We like the way the rear elevation somehow reflects an element of what's happening internally.
James: In terms of what we wouldn’t do, I think we would try and encourage more of an interior design role on the project, so we get a more holistic design approach throughout, especially in the kitchen and so on. Then since designing this and the heat last summer, which was an eye opener, we are much more aware of the extent of glazing, solar gain and mitigating that in our designs. To give an example, we've designed a rear south-facing extension in Wimbledon recently and there we have encouraged the use of integrated automatic blinds. These can extend at the back of the house and provide 3m of additional shading. We’ve also had the opportunity to explore greater level changes and play around with how you can use that to create different areas and zones.
As told to Isabelle Priest