Page E1.2 . 22 February 2012                     
ArchitectureWeek - Environment Department
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Gap House, London


Throughout the design and construction of Gap House, a primary goal was to reduce the running costs of the finished accommodation. The aspirational target was to cut energy consumption by 70 percent compared to a similar-sized unit built to current building regulations.

Multiple strategies were employed to achieve this goal. Three 50-meter- (160-foot-) deep bore holes were drilled below the rear courtyard to serve a 12-kilowatt ground-coupled heat pump. This technology provides all the heating and hot water requirements for the property, including underfloor heating.

This strategy was coupled with high levels of insulation in the walls and roof (U value: 0.15 watts per square meter-Kelvin). This factor, along with the passive solar gain, minimizes the overall supplementary heating requirement.

In the summer months, the stack effect of the central stairwell provides passive ventilation via the opening skylight.

Gap House Manser Medal

In 2009, Gap House received the RIBA Manser Medal, which recognizes "the best one-off house or housing designed by an architect in the United Kingdom."

On the occasion of the award, jury member Michael Manser, the architect and former RIBA president for whom the honor is named, remarked:

"Once again the Manser Medal has been won by an intelligent, simple, practical, high-quality design that makes most of the housebuilding industry look inadequate. The design is one of impeccable detailing and simplicity in every respect.

"The narrow front elevation is an acme of understatement and although frankly modern, at a first glance makes almost no impact. Just a narrow column of identical half shuttered casement windows, above a basement-level entrance door, all in a background of white stucco to match the adjoining houses."

The jury citation describes the 185-square-meter (1,990-square-foot) home behind that slender facade:

"Once inside the narrow entrance hall the plan soon widens step by step, to a huge rectangular living space, one quarter of which is an open court, separated only by full-height sliding and folding glass doors.

"The weight of the upper four floors, also stepped back as they rise, is borne by a single, slender bright yellow steel column. At the back top corner of this space is a small first floor office which overlooks the open and covered living area."

Water conservation was also targeted: rainwater is collected for reuse in flushing the toilets.

Wherever possible, naturally occurring, sustainable materials are used. For example, the internal walls and floors are insulated with lamb's wool. A composite larch board is used for the stair structure, and timber window frames are made from sustainable spruce.

Following completion, the property achieved an "Exemplary" grade 4 rating under the Code for Sustainable Homes. Energy bills are estimated to be £500 to £800 per annum cheaper than similar-sized properties in the Greater London Area.

The home's reception area is constructed at double height. This provides the opportunity to bring daylight in from above the courtyard via horizontal and vertical windows.

A study placed at mezzanine level completes the clever use of the building's volume, providing a secluded haven above the open-plan reception space.

Eco-Urban Design

We have reached the point at which the resources of the planet have been seriously depleted. The challenge now facing 21st-century humankind is to provide evolved buildings that no longer endanger the Earth's fragile ecological systems. Design teams worldwide are rising to this critical challenge.

Architects and engineers, mindful of the consequences of their design decisions, are now setting the precedents for both the renewed and the new built environment, considering how best to provide shelter, air of adequate quality, controlled balance of lighting and shade, economical provisions of energy, and consideration of the health and well-being of building occupants.

This applies across the full spectrum of building activity. The more-responsible government agencies now strike to commission buildings which are not only fit for purposes but are also models of energy efficiency and sustainability. A culture of waste and egocentric design is gradually being eradicated. Buildings such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 8 Headquarters in Denver, Colorado, designed by ZGF Architects LLP, epitomize this new ethos without diminishing the architectural merit of important public buildings.

In the competitive world of commercial property, developers looking to gain an advantage now see investment in green technologies and energy-saving designs as vital to the success of a project. This initiative directly responds to the demands of today's more-discerning potential occupiers.

Similarly, increased consumer demand for affordable housing has sparked a revival in community-based schemes. In many cases, public and private sectors join forces to provide value-for-money solutions. Many of these sophisticated residential schemes are able to trial renewable energy technologies onsite, contributing to the common cause.

Where a single family has ambitions to tailor a dwelling to their own individual needs, architects and designers now work closely with these clients to advise on strategies for an economical, sustainable lifestyle.

It is evident from projects such as Gap House that these aspirational clients need not compromise on architectural style in creating inspired, ecologically sound private homes.   >>>

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John A. Flannery is a freelance project manager with qualifications in industrial design from Leeds Metropolitan University. He has over 35 years of experience in the design, procurement, and project management of a wide range of construction projects in the industrial, commercial, and private sectors throughout Europe, Africa, and the United States. He currently specializes in urban regeneration projects with the highest levels of ecological accreditation.

Karen M. Smith has a dual role as an information specialist and academic liaison librarian at the University of York. Her extensive and varied career has encompassed public, university, and healthcare libraries. Currently she provides consultancy and lecturing on evidence-based practice and the effective use of information resources.

This article is excerpted from Eco-Urban Design by John A. Flannery and Karen M. Smith, copyright © 2011, with permission of the publisher, Springer.


ArchWeek Image

An operable glazed wall connects the courtyard with the two-story living space of Gap House, the 185-square-meter (1,990-square-foot) home of architect Luke Tozer.
Photo: Nick Kane Extra Large Image

ArchWeek Image

The carefully detailed central staircase of Gap House is a modified winder built from 19-millimeter (0.75-inch) larch composite board.
Photo: Nick Kane Extra Large Image

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Gap House ground-floor plan drawing.
Image: Pitman Tozer Architects Extra Large Image

ArchWeek Image

Thanks to continuous operable glazing on two walls, along with a variety of other windows and skylights, the living spaces of Gap House can be flooded with daylight.
Photo: Nick Kane Extra Large Image

ArchWeek Image

Gap House section drawing looking northwest.
Image: Pitman Tozer Architects Extra Large Image

ArchWeek Image

A glass guardrail encloses the second-floor loft space at one end of the Gap House living room.
Photo: Nick Kane Extra Large Image

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Gap House northeast elevation drawing (left) and living room section drawing looking northeast (right).
Image: Pitman Tozer Architects Extra Large Image

ArchWeek Image

Eco-Urban Design by John A. Flannery and Karen M. Smith.
Image: Springer Extra Large Image


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