Vicars Close E9
This small, humble, economic interior project is very close to our hearts. A 3 storey house, situated close to Broadway Market and Lynch Architect's office in south Hackney, was creatively modified in 2018: mostly we took things away, revealing a more open spatial structure, and intensifying the ambiguous character of the original building. We often find ourselves re-working modernist architectural situations, seeking to reveal their latent urbanity via subtle adjustments. This project is exemplary of our approach to conservation work too: empathetic, critical, intuitive and sympathetic - these terms sound both pretentious and somewhat passive, but ambitious subtlety is often over-looked.
The house is part of a project built between 1967 and 1978 by the relatively unknown, but very fine architect John Spence, for The Crown Estate, on the bomb-damaged ruins of a church. The Christ Church Estate is thus built around a graveyard of mature trees, and the landscaping is particularly sensitive and intelligent, as is the architecture and urban masterplan. A pedestrian court of 2 storey houses surrounds a beautiful communal garden at the centre of the estate. It is protected from noise and traffic to the north by some mansion block types and a small tower designed by Spence. The architecture is made up of buff-coloured London stock bricks, with metal sliding windows and zinc roofs. It is casually modern and traditional at once: a perfect, lost post-modern masterpiece. Other house types are grouped around hard and soft landscaped courtyards of varying scales.
The house in question is one of a row of taller, 3 storey houses that face south onto The Regents Canal, the tow path of which runs in front of their back gardens. The terrace itself is staggered. Each house is identical though, a modern version of a typical English 19th century row house, with hardwood handrails and newel posts, and softwood stairs and stair rods. However, whilst the plans are conventional - with staircases placed against the Party Walls, with conventional rooms off of a series of hallways - the section is more radical; placing a garage and study at ground floor, with an open-plan kitchen-dining-living room opening onto a balcony and a view of The City above; with bedrooms at the top of the house.
Our interventions have been relatively simple. We made 2 new openings in the structural wall on the 1st floor, removing the existing doors, opening the hallway to the living spaces; emphasising the ambiguity between the traditional "room-like" character of parts of the house, and its latent, modern, free-flowing spaces. In doing this, we have created a sort of colonnade: what an architect friend calls "a domestic urban space". The resulting "free-space" means that the stairway is no longer just circulation, but another room. The hallway at first floor now houses a built in desk, it is both part of, and apart from the main living area. The 3 bedrooms (or 2 plus a study) at the top of the house share a bathroom. The ground floor garage had already been adopted as part of the interior of the house, and we placed the master bedroom at this level. It opens onto a small sitting room, an existing shower room, and the garden beyond. All the walls are painted a pale grey to match Dieter Ram's Vitsoe shelving, apart from the smaller rooms, which are painted in traditional Georgian House colours. Vitsoe shelves run along the entire length of the large open plan 1st floor space, connecting these together in a practical and laconic way; their horizontal rhythm is set in deliberate contrast to the vertical rhythm of openings in the colonnade-wall opposite. A circular timber column (a telegraph pole in fact, purchased for £25) sits in the new structural opening between the ground floor boudoir, the more public spaces and the garden, discretely defining their difference: further deepening the game of traditional vs/+ modern, begun in Spence's imagination 50 years or so ago.