A new shape for the city
ideas through before shooting off to supervise their building team. Other lovely features in the house include oversize doors and a white staircase that floats like gossamer to the top floor, where there are three bedrooms, each with floor-to-ceiling windows framing surrounding houses from previous centuries. It isn’t just a house, of course. It is a model for what they hope to do elsewhere. They are now selling it for £1.795million through the Modern House (020 7704 3504; themodernhouse.net) in order to build another in Dalston. There are other sites to develop too. One is in Ridley Road, where two summers ago they created a temporary restaurant as kind of an installation. It promoted a foodfor-food economy which meant you could exchange produce from the market for meals. Food was prepared on a table that rose into an upper dining room. They are like street artists reimagining the city. “We were both frustrated at the quality of new housing,” says Merlin. “The developer’s template applied to everything.” What do they have in their portfolio? A site in East Dulwich that had got snagged up in complicated planning issues; a listed warehouse in Woolwich; and a project in New Cross, where they are making smart flats with factory windows, wood floors and cosy woodburners. “We love tradition, craft and ornament, and like to put new techniques with old,” he says. “When you think of other products like clothes or cars, design is crucial,” says Zoe. “With houses people don’t have a lot of choice. A lot of architecture is commissioned by very rich individuals. There is older housing stock which is beautiful but homogenous, or developer housing. Developers don’t value or quantify things like light and the experience of space. New developments are led not by designers but by budgets.” Zoe and Merlin want to put design first and then make it affordable. Others have been thinking about the city house too. Carl Turner designed the Slip House in a gap in a Brixton terrace. It was arranged like three boxes of milky, translucent glass teetering on top of each other. Admired for its green credentials, it won the RIBA Manser medal in 2013. Carl used “energy piles” as foundations which contributed to a heating system based on a solarassisted ground-source heat pump. There was rainwater harvesting, a wildflower roof and a work studio on the ground floor, all on a budget of £600,000. The house sold last year through the Modern House for £1.35million. In Orchard Street, Islington, Sarah Wigglesworth designed a straw bale house and “quilted office” in a witty experiment in sustainable living. She used straw bales, recycled metal cages and cement bags (to absorb the noise from the railway running alongside) and made a dining room that doubles as a venue for work conferences. World Architecture magazine hailed it as “a deep, dense and determined essay on architecture today”.
Open and shut: Zoe Chan and Merlin Eayrs, top; the Herringbone House