Fitzroy Farm / by SHH

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Fitzroy Farm, a new-build private house by London-based architects SHH, has now gone on site in Highgate, North London. The project features a great curling, outdoor slide, which links the kids’ bedrooms to the indoor/outdoor pool – a nice example of art influencing architecture, with inspiration for the slide coming from the Tate Modern slide installation by artist Carsten Höller.

A 13,000 sq ft new-build modernist house, located within the Highgate Conservation Area and designed by architects SHH, has now started on site, with completion due in Summer 2012.

The scheme, called ‘Fitzroy Farm’, is located on a 0.45 hectare site bordering Hampstead Heath and was approved by the Camden Planning Committee without a single objection, in spite of the site’s chequered history. A previous scheme for a neo-classical mansion on the site (by a different architect and for a different owner) received planning permission, but was abandoned due to significant local opposition to the Construction Management Plan, with upwards of 3000 objections. The Construction Management Plan was refused by Camden Council and a subsequent appeal dismissed.

‘Credit for obtaining implementable consent this time around must be shared with our client, who took the site on in full knowledge of its previous history, but with enough vision and conviction to resolve all previous issues,’ commented SHH Chairman David Spence, ‘and also with planning consultants Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners, who did a sterling job in devising a wide-reaching strategy to win the support of local residents for the new design.’

At the Camden Planning Committee hearing, committee members from Camden Council called the new scheme ‘a fabulous solution to a very difficult and sensitive site’, as well as ‘a super-sexy scheme we can’t wait to see built.’

The Existing Site:

The existing site housed a detached property dating from the late 1920s in a neo-Tudor style, which has now been demolished. Surrounding properties are of different ages and of a wide variety of styles and designs.

‘When our client purchased the site’, explained SHH Managing Director Graham Harris, ‘he knew he had to get together a team which would have to work hard to redress local antagonism before planning permission was submitted.’ A multi-faceted strategy was undertaken to address this, including a PR campaign and liaison with various local organisations and societies. The single most important element of the strategy, however, was a new routing for site works to the rear of the property.

‘In fact Highgate is one of the most progressive areas in London with regard to new-build schemes, thanks not only to Camden Council but also to the influential Highgate Society’ commented David Spence. ‘We knew that a more contemporary solution was likely to be better received, which was much more in tune with our design vision for the site.’

Brief and Design:

The client’s brief to the architects was to demolish the existing property and to create in its place
‘a spacious, contemporary family home of an exceptional architectural design quality, which will provide privacy, be in harmony with its surroundings and enhance the character of the Highgate Conservation Area.’

The design scheme for ‘Fitzroy Farm’ shows a low-slung house, large in scale but appropriate for the size of the site. The main entrance is to the right side of the house, partially screened behind a freestanding ‘statement’ glass wall. Its partially-glazed and timber-clad exterior is translucent and respectful and designed to sit easily in its wooded environment, with the remaining vertical surfaces in stone and high-performance render. The property has been designed, at the client’s behest, to maximise the movement of natural air around the interior in a stack effect, with the building management system allowing as much of the house as possible to open up on hot days.

The scheme is designed to stand over 2.5 floors (including a mezzanine), playing with scale via several double-height volumes, including an 8.5m entrance hall with a metal, wood and glass stair that rises through all three levels (ground, mezzanine and first). An additional lower ground floor houses a plant room and a children’s playroom, illuminated by natural light from a rear lower courtyard.

‘The house is a mix of large, dramatic spaces for high-impact arrival and entertaining’, commented David Spence, ‘as well as a number of smaller, more cosy and contained spaces for everyday family use.’

The principal ground floor rooms include a formal dining room; a central kitchen with lots of windows to keep the clients’ children in sight; a formal living room incorporating a south-facing conservatory and a large family room with 4.5m-high south-facing doors, which open completely onto an outdoor colonnaded terrace. The terrace links up to an 18m x 5m inside/outside swimming pool (a rarity in the UK), which has a retractable glass and steel division (both for security and to retain heat), with the outside section shut down in Winter and the whole pool operating as one in the Summer months. A major design feature of the scheme is a curling stainless steel water chute, which runs directly down from the children’s bedrooms on the left-hand side of the house to the pool and was inspired by artist Carsten Höller’s slide installation in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. The chute curls out into the garden trees, with two sections exposed via a Perspex ‘cockpit’ upper tier to allow views of the garden, before returning, in solid steel format, directly into the swimming pool at ground floor level.

Additional spaces above include a study; an art studio for the client’s artist wife; a gym overlooking the pool and the bedroom suites: a master room on the mezzanine level with his’n’hers dressing rooms, sitting room and bathroom suite and three children’s rooms on the first floor, all en suite and connected by a single outdoor terrace.

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SHH – winners of the ‘Best Eco House’ Award in the 2010 International Architecture and Design Awards for its View Road house, also in North London – always seek to go beyond legal requirements for green technologies on new-build schemes and Fitzroy Farm is no exception. The scheme will use a ground source heat pump and ‘slinkys’, located beneath tennis courts at the front of the property (which will also be raised so that dislodged earth can stay on site), as well as photo-voltaic and solar panels on a green sedum curved roof to the rear of the property (designed to shield the neighbouring bowling club from views of the house). Where possible, original materials from the existing building, from bricks to oak beams to concrete slabs, have been incorporated into the new scheme, whether visible or built into the foundations, as both a principled commitment to recycling and a further way to diminish site traffic.

New planting around the house includes mature oak and sycamore trees, at the client’s request, playing on the Englishness of the site, with the landscaping scheme created by long-time SHH collaborator and Chelsea Flower Show double-gold-medallist garden designer Kate Gould. Kate commented on the landscaping scheme that she has designed ‘a garden to compliment the natural surroundings of the heath, with planting appropriate to the specific pH conditions of the site and locality. Planting has been selected for its natural feel, whilst any inappropriate existing planning has been carefully thinned, following liaison with an arboricultural specialist, so that the site has a much softer feel, providing a contrast to SHH’s new, modern home’
Accommodation on the property also includes a smaller (existing but refurbished) house, screened by a wall, for a live-in husband and wife staff team.

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