A new shape for the city

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Property -

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

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