‘Sunken House’ in London, N1 is a new build contemporary house designed by David Adjaye, Adjaye Associates for Ed Reeve, architectural photographer. Completed in July 2007, its key design statement is of simplicity and refined yet minimal design using environmentally friendly materials to achieve an understated luxury.
Named Sunken House after the way in which it appears to sink into its own materiality due to the continuity across the front and rear outdoor spaces and façade, the property is 2000 square feet over three stories.
The house forms part of Adjaye’s ongoing exploration of notions of the home and of retreat in the urban context. Rather than making a façade that simply adds to the existing streetscape, Adjaye seeks to create homes that are sympathetic to their context in subtler ways. Sunken House is an architectural punctuation – it makes a full-stop at the end of the terrace and signifies a corner turn into Northchurch Road.
Initially attracted to the site by the view of the surrounding trees, Ed Reeve believed that the new house needed to make a panoramic composition of the natural environment outside. He also wanted a home that maximized its aspect by placing the kitchen access at the rear, bedrooms in the middle and the sitting room at the top of the structure. Additionally to fit with his lifestyle, simplicity and low-maintenance were other key requirements.
The entire site was excavated to basement level creating a sunken patio on which the house, a partly prefabricated solid timber structure is placed. This solid timber load-bearing superstructure means improved thermal and acoustic performance and a reduced carbon footprint. Each cubic metre of timber saves almost 1 tonne of carbon dioxide emissions compared to brick or breezeblock structure. These large, section-engineered timber panels were manufactured off-site resulting in an on-site construction program of just two days.
One enters the house at street level via parts of the lower ground floor roof, which also provides off street car parking. All facades of the house as well as vertical and horizontal surfaces of the concrete patio are clad in a cedar timber rain-screen stained dark brown creating the impression of a surface that embraces the enclosed and open spaces.
Upstairs in the main living room a large single-pane picture window overlooks the Rubina, Oak, Maple and Birch trees – fulfilling the original brief to frame the surrounding landscape. Other elements that contribute to a sense of sanctuary range from the choice of soft artificial lighting, techniques used to draw in natural daylight such as the triple-height well inside the front entrance and natural ventilation through openings from one short section to the other. The use of the thickest possible interior door adds to a sense of quiet and security
Outdoors, recessed up-lighting along the top of the fence washes light through the surrounding foliage creating a green glow that encloses and increases the contrast of the building giving the effect of a square void where the house sits.
There are so many visual treats all over this house. David and Ed considered the aspects of the house in order to make the best of the sun light in it’s journey around the building through the day. The functionality of the house follows the light through the day. Shadows of a neighbours bamboo are caught on the opaque bedroom window, The light warms the front in the morning as you leave for work, The light fills the rear courtyard outside the kitchen in the midday, ideal for Summer lunches. Evening light fills the top floor living room, broken through the leaves of the Oak tree creating animated wallpaper in a light breeze.