28 May 2020

We gained planning permission last week for our two-storey rear / side extension and retrofit project in Oxford. The proposal moves the kitchen from a dark inner area to the rear of the house, where it overlooks the garden and connects to new living and dining spaces. The single-storey element ensures compliance with the 45-degree rule at first floor, while the roof of the two-storey element runs flush with the existing main roof to simplify geometry, reduce prominence, and save cost.

The planning officer originally asked us to reduce the scheme, on the grounds that it’s ‘overly prominent’. However, we argued our case based on the design justifications above. We also drew their attention to the numerous extensions on the street that are similar or more prominent, all of which were approved. In the end, we persuaded the officer and their team leader to change their minds and to approve the application.

We have a good working relationship with planning officers at Oxford City Council and surrounding local authorities, which helps us to open a dialogue when seeking planning permission. Talk to us if you are looking to start a project that requires planning permission.

21 May 2020

Our research on house eco-retrofit evaluated the performance of three case studies in Oxford. The research looked at both physical (hard) data and behavioural (soft) data. One aspect of the physical data came from the use of a thermal imaging camera to detect thermal bridging – the wasteful transfer of heat between inside and outside. During a thermographic survey in cold climates, the buildings should be heated to create a difference between inside and outside of at least 10°C.

Taking photos next to thermal images enables accurate comparison. These images show the true effectiveness of insulation. The above property is a 1950s semi with a bay window, which were traditionally formed of an uninsulated, thin timber construction. The grey circle highlights the severe heat loss from the radiator. The below property has been insulated externally, demonstrating the uniformity of lower surface temperature compared to the neighbour, which is uninsulated.

Through our research, we understand building physics and how to design with thermal performance and comfort in mind. Talk to us about your energy-efficient and ecological building projects.

14 May 2020

Another one of our research projects in East Oxford, ‘Rooftop Neighbourhood’. This residential development provides high-quality, low-energy housing, with a focus on connecting residents with the wider community. It’s split over three levels, basement, ground, and roof. Lightwells introduce natural daylight and cross ventilation to all three levels, while a modern take on window shutters helps to prevent overheating by stopping solar gain entering the buildings directly.

At rooftop level, a shared landscaped space encourages households to engage with each other through socialising and play, with sky bridges that connect housing blocks. At ground level, the public square becomes a node for urban activity, with connection to the local primary school on one side and shops to the other. The pedestrianised space opens up opportunities as an everyday playground, and a place for regular events such as the farmers’ market and street parties.

Housing for people is what we love to do. Engagement with the community is key. Talk to us about how we can help with your architectural project, whatever size it is.

07 May 2020

A site massing and design parameter sketch for one of our current new-build house projects in Oxford. The plot is unusually wide for the street, which is predominantly made up of older, narrower house types. To avoid appearing overly prominent, the proposal has been broken down into smaller masses that are comparable to those on the street. This introduced the concept of a central circulation core, serving living quarters to one side and ancillary to the other.

The central core opened up an opportunity to, upon entering the home, immediately capture views to the rear garden and meadow beyond. The stepping of the façades brings in more natural light, while to the rear it maximises exposure to the south west sun – great for sunset views in the evenings. Conforming to existing building lines on the street side, as well as rules for neighbours’ access to daylight and sunlight, ensures the proposal adheres to planning policy.

Sketches like this help to visualise the concept and justify design decisions. Talk to us if you need help defining your brief, assessing site parameters, and visualising the concept for your project.

30 April 2020

Nine Houses in Dietikon, Switzerland, by Peter Vetsch. One of his more famous pieces of work, this extraordinary series of private family dwellings has the appearance of growing out of the ground. When we first visited, we were surprised about its location on a normal residential street, bar the fantasy castle opposite of course – the personal residence of Peter Vetsch to satisfy his wife’s desires (they were kind enough to open the door to say hello and tell us the story).

According to Vetsch, the organic form represents the connection between humans and their first shelter. He believes that we should live within organic forms surrounded by nature. The dome shapes were achieved using a formed steel structure and mesh with a spray-on concrete. This was insulated, waterproofed, and covered with earth to provide a thick substrate for plants to thrive on. This is known as an intensive green roof, providing garden space at rooftop level.

We specialise in growing plants on buildings and are committed to creating wonderful homes using ecological design principles. Talk to us if you are looking to create a new or refurbished eco home.

23 April 2020

What do children do at home? This concept board begins to explore some of the activities that young children get involved in at home. Some activities are messy, some require a calm environment, others will benefit from the natural light and warmth from the sun. For example, does waking up to daylight help with starting the day in a fresh and positive way? Which internal wall and floor finishes are best for easily mopping up spillages that won’t mind getting wet all the time?

This understanding has become particularly relevant in current circumstances, where we’ve been confined to the four walls of our houses. We’re spending much more time here than we normally would, and our homes have become places where we do everything. We can use this time to work out what is and isn’t working for us, and how we might change things for the better. Truly understanding how you use every aspect of your home really helps to define a design brief.

Our role is to work closely with our clients to gain a deep understanding of their brief and together, come up with solutions to an existing need. Talk to us if you have a project you would like to explore together.

16 April 2020

Despite the lockdown, we’re proud to announce another project start, this time for an office and workshop building in the Oxfordshire countryside. We’re helping our client extend their premises to create additional work space and storage. Part of the brief is to create new roof openings to capture this amazing view, which will change through the seasons. This will help to improve employee wellbeing, as well as providing more generous head height, natural light, and ventilation.

When sat at a desk looking at a screen for long periods, it’s important to take regular eye breaks. According to the HSE (Health and Safety Executive), exercise routines including blinking, stretching and focusing eyes on distant objects (for example through a window and to a distant view) can be beneficial. Making sure daily work consists of a mix of screen-based and non-screen-based work can prevent fatigue – this is why workspace layout and design is so important.

We know the key things to consider when designing beautiful spaces that promote good health and wellbeing. Talk to us if you’d like to plan your next building project.

09 April 2020

Save Safe Structural Timber. ACAN (Architects Climate Action Network) is running a campaign, and supporting the Timber Trade Federation’s response, to save the safe use of structural timber in buildings. There is currently a consultation by the UK Government asking for a review of the ban on the use of combustible materials in and on the external walls of buildings. This would affect all new residential buildings in the country with a floor above 11 metres (approx. four storeys).

Following the tragedy of Grenfell, the Government is doing the right thing in making buildings safer. However, the proposals could prevent the use of timber as a primary structural material, while there is no evidence that structural walls pose the same fire risk as external cladding. Thus, the two should not be treated in the same way. Furthermore, according to the CCC, timber has 60% lower embodied carbon than concrete and can help in tackling the climate emergency.

We will be submitting our response to the consultation before the deadline of Monday 13th April at 23:45. If this is important to you, make sure you do too by following the links above.

02 April 2020

One of our research projects titled ‘Sow Housing’ in East Oxford, and one of the sources of inspiration for our practice name ‘Sow Space’. The mixed-use development is primarily residential, incorporating a seed shop and cooking school, using produce from plants grown on and within the building fabric. The concept is about sowing the seeds of local edible produce, while at the same time, sowing the seeds for a higher quality built environment, and a more just society.

The design of the development makes use of several different methods for growing vegetation on the building fabric. This includes rooftop allotments, terracotta pots as balustrades, green wall shelves, espalier fruit trees, and a herb spiral rooftop viewing point – bringing people together. Meanwhile at ground level, wider joints between paving blocks capture wild seeds and help with sustainable urban drainage (SUDS), more commonly seen in some continental European cities.

Ecological building design for people is our passion and expertise. It is crucial to the wellbeing of our society. Talk to us about how we can help with the research and / or design of your building project.

26 March 2020

We are delighted to be starting a new extension, conversion, and whole-house refurbishment project in north Oxford. Whilst we’re quite keen on the yellow in this room, the newly purchased house is in need of an update. It presents a perfect opportunity for our client to create a wonderful new home in this next chapter of their life. The long and lush, south-facing garden is longing to be opened up to, while the garage and loft will create invaluable additional space for living and homeworking.

It is common to design new expanses of glass towards south-facing aspects. To prevent overheating, it is important to provide adequate shading, insulation, and ventilation, as well as to specify glass appropriately. Garage and loft spaces were never originally designed to be inhabited. When converting, insulation, thermal breaks, vapour control, and ventilation must be carefully considered. Otherwise, cold spots can result in damp, mould growth, and poor indoor air quality.

Extending and retrofitting your home is a once in a lifetime opportunity and is a large financial investment. Talk to us if you would like to understand how to do it beautifully and with minimum risk.