This house has incredible architecture and eco credentials, achieved with faith, graft and unconventional wisdom
Australian-born joiner, Bill Bradley’s grand design was driven by precision and rigour, and shows what you can get if you are prepared to pursue quality without compromise. There is virtually nothing conventional about the two glass and timber eco houses (one to pay for the other, leaving him mortgage-free) Bill built on the site that used to house his joinery factory.
Unconventionality also stretched to Bill’s building methods. A man of wood, he approached the houses as if they were a pair of oversized cabinets, laying out a template of them in strips of plywood before he started work on the site. Then, we saw his carpenters set to work on the buildings’ angled window frames – 28 in total, each a unique size and orientation – before the walls of the house had even been erected.
Bill, meanwhile, was impressively unflappable throughout the 18-month build. Big delays in the glazing package, un-cooperative weather and soaring costs, nothing seemed to perturb him. ‘We are,’ he said of himself and singer wife Sarah, ‘going for the big sustainable build. We are going to create an urban oasis and we want to do it properly. As well as being pleasant places to live, these houses are going to look sensational. We want to prove that green doesn’t mean yuck.’
He certainly proved that. The beautiful cedar-clad buildings look like a series of precariously stacked, wooden jewellery boxes. A mirror image of each other, the four-bedroom properties are centred around double-height, glazed courtyards with open-plan living areas on each side. Almost half of the first floor is glazed too, and at ground level large glass doors at both ends of the building open out on to what Bill has rightly called ‘landscaped garden rooms’.
Topped with sedum (plus branches and stones to encourage nesting) the flat roofs are very green in colour. In addition, the roof’s run-off water drains into a rain-harvesting system the couple use for flushing the toilet and watering the ‘garden rooms’.'We wanted to prove that green doesn’t mean yuck’
Most impressive, the project is green to its very core. The foundations are six-metre steel pins screwed into the ground on a rig – a low-energy system the Victorians used in building seaside piers. And the houses’ entire structure is made of renewable timber – compressed strands of wood that are as strong as steel, but easier to cut. ‘They also don’t warp, twist, shake or shrink,’ adds Bill.
As well as being energy efficient, the low-impact steel piles also reduced the impact on the plot’s surrounding buildings and walls. This tight, narrow plot is overlooked by no less than 16 houses, not surprisingly, planning permission took two years.
Bill’s glass is also an integral part of the design. In addition to the glazed courtyards and first-floor walls, it runs from the floor, up to and across the ceilings in the bedrooms and upstairs bathroom. Most important, the glass – sheets of toughened glass fixed to shatterproof laminate – is thermally efficient in all weathers. Project architect, Martin Williams, of Hampson Williams, wasn’t aggrandising when he said, ‘we are asking the material to do a lot’. Or when he revealed that each bespoke pane translated into three inches of paperwork.
Bill was certainly sympathetic to the architects’ glassy concerns and, despite an eight-month delay in the glazing package and mounting attendant costs was remarkably unruffled by his long-windowless home. Unruffled, that is, until the day the first pane arrived on site. Human error is the stuff of life, but it wasn’t a good moment when Bill’s excited team hoisted the 250kg sheet up to its gaping frame and found it was too big. It should have been 1713cm wide, but was 1731cm instead. The last two digits on the order form had been accidentally transposed.
Money was another area over which Bill refused to get agitated. His building costs almost doubled from a substantial £450,000 to a painful £790,000. ‘The rising costs didn’t scare me,’ Bill said after. ‘My only concern was if the land lost value. Our original budget was just unrealistic. It simply became a question of respecting the architecture and not losing sight of our vision.’
That respect ran deep. From Bill’s exquisite soft-opening cabinetry and sliding doors that melt into walls, to his cantilevered floating wood staircase which doesn’t contain a single nail, and the internal detailing in this open-plan home is just superb. Equally impressive, none of it compromises the couple’s green principles -Bill and Sarah’s eco research has indeed proved that green is not yuck.
When asked if he'd do it again, Bill replies - ‘Absolutely. I now have the spec for a green home, where as before I just had a design.’
Developers: Talisman Manufacturing Ltd www.ecoism.co.uk
Architects: Hampson Williams www.hampsonwilliams.com
Engineers: Built Engineers www.builtengineers.co.uk
Piling: Screwfast Foundations www.screwfast.com
Glass: Uniglaze 2 www.uniglaze2.co.uk
Crawford Glass of London: 020 8520 3981
Sliding doors: The David Barley Company www.eclisse.co.uk
Rain-harvesting system: Hydro International 01275 878 371
Timber cladding: Vincent Timber www.vincenttimber.co.uk
Cladding treatment: Arch Timber Protection www.archchemicals.com
Bamboo flooring: Simply Bamboo www.simplybamboo.co.uk
Sedum planting: Blackdown Horticultural www.greenroof.co.uk
Solar Panels: Bosch group www.worcester-bosch.co.uk
Landscaping: The London Garden Design Co www.londongardendesign.com
Living room furniture: Liberty www.liberty.co.uk
Dining chairs: Vitra www.vitra.com
Blinds: Inside Spaces www.insidespaces.co.uk
The story so far
What? Two timber and glass eco houses built on a backland, brownfield site.
Where? South London who Bill and Sarah Bradley with their daughter Jasmin.
Budget? Originally £450,000, but this increased to £790,000 during the build.
How long? 18 months from demolition of Bill’s joinery factory to moving in.
High point? ‘Switching the lights on at night,’ says Sarah. ‘It’s pure theatre.’
Low point? ‘Discovering that a 250kg, £3,000 sheet of glass was too big for the window frame,’ says Bill.
Space in the city
The desire for space is a big issue in the city, and has led to many urbanites applying for planning on backland sites such as gardens and other small pockets of hidden land. Whitehall has stipulated that 60 per cent of new housing should be on brownfield sites and ‘town cramming’, as the process has become known, takes the pressure off regenerating former industrial brownfield sites. Interestingly, gardens in urban areas count as brownfield because they are classified as having ‘been residential’. As Bill found, residents’ key objection is overlooking. So, if you are considering building on a small-scale urban plot, hire an architect who has already done so.