This brief was to design a second home for the installation artist Olafur Eliasson. The site is situated at the top of a tranquil gully in the Avon Gorge with a steep drop off, and amazing views down to the River Avon. Having lived in and around Bristol for many years, I had no idea that this secret place existed, and took the theme of secrecy as a key inspiration for the project. The house architecturally is based on Le Corbusier’s Dom-Ino house structure – slab walls, pilotis columns and a staircase. This allows for multiple choices as to where walls and windows can be placed.
My client is known for his works with light, colour and creating new perceptions of views, so this was all considered in the design of the home. I wanted to create a space for him that is a live/work studio, with distinctive private and public spaces. Eliasson is half Icelandic, so this is referenced as well in the use of turf on the roof of the house – a nod to the ancient Icelandic buried hill houses.
The design embeds the house into the cliff, so that from the northern approach you do not even know there is a house there. It is only when you are standing on top of the roof that you realise there is a staircase descending into the house. There is a 1m meter space around the house within the carved out space in the cliff, so it lets light fall from pierced walkways above and feed natural light into the house.
My client is passionate about ecology and sustainability, so external building materials used in the house include rammed earth walls, hempcrete, recycled glass and turf. Then structure is concrete, but uses the most ecologically available mixture made from 70% recycled slag furnace waste.
The entrance into the house is by moving down the stairwell, these have a pierced wall system designed to create spots of light in the sunshine which move across the space as the sun moves overhead. Mirrored stainless steel walls create strong reflections and further bounce light through the stairwell.
The studio space is on the first floor and is open plan, with a kitchen area concealed behind sliding doors. A ceiling grid allows for maquettes to be hung up out of the way. The furniture is all on castors so the room can be reconfigured as an office / studio / dining room /exhibition space. An oculus window was designed to distort the view looking in and out into the gully. Along the mainly glazed south facing wall are a system of internal glass sliding panels in colours which can be moved to create new perspectives and views of the valley beyond.
The floor below is a personal space for my client where he can relax and sleep. A large balcony creates an exterior entertaining space with a system of textural glass screens. The interior is a neutral and calm space with natural textures. A fireplace pierces the wall so it can be accessed both inside and outside.
The final level is a secret place that only my client can access. An internal jib door is concealed behind a bookcase, and opens to reveal stairs leading to a sub level. This is open air, but protected from wind and rain by the house above it. Pilotis were raised to 2m to create this space. Here my client has an outdoor kitchen, decks, a dance floor (he was the Swedish champion in breakdancing for 2 years running!), and a luxurious wood fired Swedish hot tub so he can use it all year round and enjoy the views.
This project entailed the learning of CAD for the first time, and material testing with fabrication of glass, concrete, hempcrete and rammed earth samples.