Our environment has and continues to be influenced by a combination of legislators, landowners, planners and inspirational architects. It’s comforting to know that there are many within this mix that have a passion for the creation of innovative, sensitive and well-crafted buildings.
Hugh Strange Architects, a recently formed award winning practice based in London are developing a reputation for marrying innovative construction with a sensitive approach to site conditions. The practice has a keen interest in precise contextual response delivering surprising solutions for buildings on sensitive urban and rural sites.
In a recent conversation, Hugh Strange expanded upon the practices’ design philosophy.
Architectural Archive, Somerset
Hugh Strange believes their approach to context and sensitivity is reflected in a series of commissions, one of the most prominent being around Hadspen House, a Grade II listed Country House in Somerset, which was nominated for the 2015 European Prize for Contemporary Architecture. “In a very simple sense, we are interested in using materials which are naturally finished, where you can see the material itself. The natural ageing process then provides an aesthetic that becomes warmer and gentler over time.”
Hugh Strange Architects used a variety of self finished materials for Shatwell Farm Studio.
Behind the remaining walls of a derelict farm building in Somerset, the shell of a new architectural archive was constructed of cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels without insulation, external wall cladding or internal lining. The structural panels range from 300 mm to 420 mm in thickness and simultaneously provide the building with insulation and thermal mass. This combination creates stability of temperature and relative humidity for the drawings held in the archive and is complemented by a void between the timber and the roof cladding that, during hot summer months, allows ventilation to prevent the shell from overheating.
A by-product of the panels being sized for their thermal performance rather than their structural efficiency was that the roof panels were able to span length-wise. This meant the long side walls took minimal loads and a downstand at the apex of the roof pitch could be avoided, allowing the creation of simple internal volumes.
A galvanized steel frame spanning the length of the building supports the profiled fibre cement roof and also provides a counterpoint to the CLT panels. This is partly reflected externally with the use of galvanized guttering and down pipes. Beautifully profiled galvanized doors and drainage details further contrast the minimal finishes used internally. “I think that galvanized steel relates to timber and brick in that it improves with age. It’s gentle unevenness and interesting patina is something that we very much like.”
Avon Wildlife Trust Cabin
Avon Gorge, Bristol
The Avon Wildlife Trust Cabin is another example of a simple material strategy that sits well within its surroundings.
The building provides a semi-seasonal shelter for volunteers, school classes and visitors to a new nature reserve in the Avon Gorge just outside Bristol. In response to the very modest budget, the design provides a simple, ‘off the shelf’ agricultural building and extends and adapts it. This sits on an existing concrete ground slab; native flowers have been planted in cracks and trenches in the concrete.
Full height galvanized steel barn doors allow the building to be open to the view when in use but fully enclosed at other times. The interior is simply fitted out with plywood shelving and storage. A purpose-made Douglas Fir canopy frames dramatic views and offers shelter from the rain when the building is not in use.
The canopy extends beyond the length of the building to provide a gateway to the reserve whether the building is open or closed. The
10 x 3 m structure takes an agricultural building and enhances it with cladding, glazing and an extended canopy.
“I think there is a special way that people respond to unfinished materials. Using the term natural may not be the most accurate way of describing them but there is a definite positive response that these materials engender. Maybe there is a simplicity to them that is more easily understood, particularly in the 21st century with its demands on our time and the impact on our experiences of digitisation. Being in direct contact with very tangible materials that you can feel and touch, understand and watch weather is something very important. With weathering, a softer naturally complementary hue develops, perhaps this is why we are guided towards them.”