Out to confront assumptions that underpin much architectural work, the London practice feeds its ideas from houses into projects for small developers too
It’s easy to imagine that there’s not much new that can be done with the big house extension – it has become a wearisome cliché, not least for the architects who have to design them. Like many small London firms, Fitzrovia-based Inglis Badrashi Loddo Architects, IBLA, finds that the upwards and rearwards extension of homes for private clients make up a lot of its work. But it has brought to these bread and butter projects the condiments of originality, variety and charm.
‘We like buildings,’ says partner Jamal Badrashi. ‘It sounds really odd, but I think it is something that distinguishes us from other architects. We like old buildings and we like new buildings. We don’t have an agenda to change the world – we see ourselves as people who polish and make better things that we find.’
IBLA comprises Badrashi (above, centre), Patrick Inglis (right) and Kim Loddo (left). The trio met studying architecture at Cambridge, and went into practice together in 2000. They had shared rooms and then went to work for different companies. Some time later Inglis was asked to choose some colours for a common room at Westminster School. ‘We went out for a meal and decided to jack in our jobs on the basis of one request to repaint some walls,’ Inglis recalls.
While they’ve taken on projects including a Czech cultural centre and chambers for a law firm, the bulk of their work is for small developers and private domestic clients, and in recent years it’s been more of the latter. But this has led to a succession of delightful results. A loft at Stapleton Hall Road in Stroud Green uses pale, creamy poplar plywood to unite a complicated roof space without diminishing its inherent intrigue. For another upper level at Dukes Avenue, Muswell Hill, an athletic twist of staircase joins with a sky-lit play landing connecting two children’s rooms. And at Shepherds Hill in Highgate, a large rear extension to an already substantial house is divided into a series of clear and distinct interior spaces via a vitrine-like cupola and crisp and delicious roof vaults.
These interesting spaces are the result of confronting some of the tyrannical assumptions that underpin the typical extension – that more is more, that permitted development should be pushed to its outer limits, that if a wall can be taken out it must be taken out, and that you can never have enough open plan.
‘People get very excited that “ooh yeah we’ll add a really big extension, we’ll have a really big space and we can do loads of things in it”,’ says Loddo. ‘Actually you’ve got to think very carefully about how you manipulate that space and give it nuances and character, otherwise you just end up with a lot of empty floorplate and you’re still just retreating to the edges of a bigger space.’
Pushing out houses upwards and backwards can also create a pool of dark, dead space in the middle. They often end up bleached and purged, emptied out by the ‘opening up’. ‘We spend a lot of time trying to persuade people to knock out less masonry and to keep as much of the original house as they can,’ Badrashi says. ‘We often have clients who have bought a beautiful Victorian house and they come to us and they want to rip out as much as they can …’
‘And you think,’ Loddo says, ‘why didn’t you buy something else?’
In trying to give new spaces at least as much character as the existing house, IBLA has a few recurring tropes – the firm has a taste for built-in furniture, vaults and coffers, expressive roof geometry and feature staircases, often in places that might be considered too small for a feature. Loddo calls them ‘microcosms’ of projects as a whole, ‘self-contained and quite crafted elements’.
‘Doing nice staircases that aren’t, you know, fifty grand is the trick,’ says Inglis. ‘Staircases that are interesting but slightly subtle and not just expensive for the sake of it are kind of fun.’ This leads to treats such as the underside of the stairs at Dukes Avenue, a single sinuous surface of plaster, ‘like those absolutely wild plastered curves you get on the underside of Georgian staircases,’ he says. The curve has a cousin in the crisp fluted vault of an exercise room downstairs.
These small private projects serve as incubators for ideas that can be deployed in the practice’s work for small developers. Often this is about balancing private and communal space in rental flats intended for sharers. So at the Chequered Flag building in Chiswick, a crisp white block with a touch of the Weissenhof about it, the statement stair is a shared one, kicked out into a communal roof terrace like the gangway of an ocean liner. The flats open onto this terrace, an arrangement Badrashi likens to an American motel, which gives a more interesting step from the public to the semi-public to the private than the usual buzzers and lobbies.
Similarly, the large shared landing at the top of those stairs at Dukes Avenue – a play space between two children’s rooms – is mirrored in a project IBLA is putting together for young renters, a duplex in which each floor has a bedroom and its own communal space, providing more variety and separation.
Another idea carried from private houses to developer projects is the use of sprinklers to meet fire safety rules, which allows more freedom in layout. The fire-enclosing central hallway, from which all other rooms stem, can be eliminated. This means ‘you can do things like the Friends flat, where you walk into a living space and the bedrooms open onto it, which I think is a much more interesting way of having a shared flat,’ says Badrashi. ‘It frees up possibilities.’
Even on these larger projects, the same IBLA fondness of the detail comes out. At Mary’s Mews in Twickenham, a right of way that passes through the site is made a feature by use of a graceful arch. The building as a whole – a four-storey block intended to balance the scale of a street between a two-storey terrace and an unlovely eight-storey hotel – is in dark brick, with an expressive corduroy detail along its roof line.
It’s almost like a tasteful refurbishment of a neglected building that was there before rather than a new build, and it feels as if that’s the way IBLA likes to work. Badrashi disclaims any radicalism: ‘We think cities are things that are in progress and our job is to carry them on.’ Similarly, Loddo modestly calls the practice ‘custodians’: ‘It’s our duty to look after things.’ Which is an endearing sentiment, but one wonders if it undersells the energetic thought and creation that animates the joyous civility of their work.
Header image credit: Ivan Jones
Will Wiles' latest book is Plume