Duggan Morris Architects

Pennyfathers Lane . North Welwyn

Duggan Morris Architects . renders: © Forbes Massie . photos: © Jack Hobhouse . + bdonline

Duggan Morris Architects has been commissioned with the refurbishment and extension of the Grade II Listed house at Pennyfathers Lane in North Welwyn, Herts.

The area is peripheral to Welwyn Garden City, and its primary ideal of conjunction of dwelling and production activities were incorporated by the original architects and inhabitants of the house, Sir David & Mary Medd (née Crowley), considered to be the world’s most important exponents of the modernisation of primary school design. Their sophisticated design methodology conciliated Arts & Crafts sensibility with a modern functionalist approach to the organisation of space.
The house was built in 1953 under strict cost controls typical of the austerity period, centrally positioned within a rural plot gently sloping into open fields, organised into a main dwelling and lightly rotated workshop ranges. Its original construction, judiciously preserved up to now, combined standard materials and methods with delicate finishes and bespoke componentry built on site. The historic relevance of the house lies in this subtle conjunction of orthodox and exquisite elements.
The new owners need to adapt the original house (designed for a couple) to accommodate their growing family spanning three generations, whilst preserving its essence and upgrading to 21st century standards.
The strategy is devised as a gradient of intervention:
– general preservation of the main house
– light adjustment of room sizes within the main functional structure
– light conversion of the workshop ranges to create additional accommodation space, and
– an extension to the northern area of the garden connecting into the existing house articulation.

The proposed extension is composed of three discrete masonry rooms delicately placed in to the landscape. Each double-pitched volume aligns to either the Listed Building or the northern boundary, following the slight curvature in the topography on which the main house sits. Likewise, the position of a mature walnut tree and two silver birches informs the interstice between the elements, resulting in a sequence of recessed and more prominent rooms breaking away from the continuous frontage of the main house.
The rooms are connected together and to the main house by a lower sinuous structure made of slender carpentry components, continuously glazed which establishes strong visual connections through the site. With no specific function, the intermediate spaces created allow for a range of uses by the family. Subtle changes of direction arising from the main rooms create a direct relationship to the existing building arrangement in both its plan and roof geometries. The new components sit on a continuous low concrete plinth of fine exposed-aggregate that mediates with the gentle change of level, forming exterior areas to the open landscape or around the walnut tree and light wells serving subterranean rooms.
The plinth also seamlessly connects the interior space into the existing structure of pathways along and across the site. The arrangement of buildings and paths on the site results in a refined affirmation of the various instances of the landscape: domestic (open garden), productive (allotments) & wild (woodland).

The extension aims at a continuous and abstract use of materials & constructive systems found in the existing house –loadbearing masonry, timber roof and tiles. But instead of imitating their disposition and layering, they are used to form unitary elements where they contemporarily assume mass, structure and surface roles. To this arrangement, a muted shift of tonal and tactile qualities of materials precedes the need for sophisticated junctions. This material approach also integrates the effortless beauty of Medd’s carpentry – bare structures seeking beauty through an unfettered celebration of function rather than through decoration.

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