This is a flat, alien landscape that embraces everything from wind farms to caravan parks. The dwellings on Beach Road stand along one side of what is really a rough track: Redshank stands on the other. The house was built as a retreat for an artist-couple and the influence of their input to its design is evident in its unusual sculptural form. The starting points for the architect were a concern for the preservation of the local natural environment and the need to raise the building high enough above the area’s propensity to flood—in January 2017, the threat of severe coastal flooding led to a plan to evacuate over 2500 homes in Lee-Over-Sands and nearby Jaywick. In the event, the plan was never implemented, but a recent bad flood in the area produced more than one metre of water.
Redshank is raised on three elliptical steel legs that are 2.4 metres high and sit on a concrete raft foundation. The steel framework had to be substantial enough to support the small house’s cross laminated timber superstructure but would have been even more robust had it been required to hold up a heavier material. The choice of this product was also dictated by its very low embodied carbon footprint and its capacity to form the house’s floor, walls and roof. Redshank’s internal surfaces have been left unfinished, the warmth of the wood adding to the ambience of the house.
The exterior takes the house somewhere into the future in terms of material development. The CLT has been clad with ridged, agglomerated cork panels that are dimensionally-stable, fireproof and insulating. A by-product of cork manufacture for bottles, the bark is hand-stripped from ancient Portuguese cork oaks, which renew themselves to produce future harvests. The agglomeration process involves pressure and heat only, without any chemical additives and therefore produces a non-hazardous and biodegradable product. Importantly, as regards Redshank’s location, it is also highly resistant to damp, mould and infestation. The option to give the cork a polyurethane coating was rejected, the preference here being to let the material respond to the vagaries of the weather and the local atmospheric conditions. The CLT box is entirely covered with cork and, since rain simply drains off its surfaces, there is no need for gutters to interrupt the building’s sculptural simplicity. This is a material from another more primitive time but, in this landscape, it seems not only entirely appropriate and may well open the door to new thinking about how time-honoured materials might be used in entirely new and passive ways.
As a possible solution to the UK’s housing crisis, Redshank is unlikely be to everyone’s taste but, as the progenitor of other innovative possibilities, this small studio may well signal an entirely different future for the way we build houses and the qualities we require from them to ensure we have homes in which we have made a positive choice to dwell.
RIBA East Award 2017
RIBA East Small Project Award 2017
The Modern Timber House in the UK, chapter 14
Read more about The future timber house: sustainable, adaptable and resilient
Images: Helene Binet