All of us will be familiar with housing typologies such as this. Huge portions of our urban stock is made up of variations on the two-storey over-basement terrace house. Given such vast numbers within city limits, they have provided a fertile breeding ground for adaptations good and bad over the years.
More often than not, stripped back and vacated of their natural architectural character, they were divided into units and chopped up internally to accommodate more than they should, devoid of quality, and disregarding any sort of respect to the historic fabric. The remnants of this can still be seen, but the tide is turning, as architects shake off the shackles and bring them back to life.
This project involved the complete remodelling of the lower ground floor of a two-storey over-basement Georgian terrace house, which like many others, was divided into units before Diarmaid Brophy Architects and Sterrin O’Shea got involved. The layout is simple and uncomplicated, and the materials are warm and complementary to the traditional aesthetic, but it’s the technical expertise required to address a history of flooding that makes this space, and this house work. We are all guilty of focussing on the end game, the finished product, without proper celebration of what some might call “boring” aspects of the design that make it all possible.
Extensive waterproofing works formed a central part of this project as the lower level had been flooded before, and a key requirement was to transform the unused lower ground floor into a light and airy space that could provide a family dining and kitchen area. It’s in the layers that we cannot see where the architecture here lies.
This is often an underrated and misunderstood characteristic of a good architect – their technical expertise to realise their ideas. Given the history of flooding, I would imagine severe damp issues were compounded by a high water table, ensuring difficult and challenging draining resolutions were needed. This means permanent flexible water-proofing, breathable insulation and lime render would have been required – none of which can be seen. Given that it is also a period building, I can appreciate the challenges such a simple design ‘idea’ presented, and this is the point. Ideas are nothing if you don’t have the expertise to understand how to implement them. Architects wear many different hats on a daily basis.
Given the simplicity of the execution, I can also appreciate the work of the architect here in achieving a now useable, light-filled open plan space in what was previously a dark, damp series of rooms consigned to insignificance.
A full-height storage wall, accessible from both sides, serves both the kitchen and utility area and cleverly conceals household appliances – function must come first after all. Accessed via a hidden corridor, a new stairway reconnects the upper and lower floors in a particularly clever interpretation of how floors interconnect in such properties.
This split level spills into the garden to give two interconnecting levels to maximise the outdoor space. The lower level terrazzo patio is accessed directly from the kitchen/dining area and is framed using hardwood walls and an integrated bench and planter. Steps lead to the upper garden level, which is accessed directly from the half-landing though a glazed hardwood door. It’s a lovely play on space and height, and connects the back of the house at two levels to the rear garden which means the house takes root in its location, literally.
The play in levels is what we will notice here, as well as the transformation – but spare a thought too for all that technical jargon that’s embedded in the walls, the floors and under the garden, sitting silently, allowing everything else to take all the plaudits.
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