The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Sep 23, 2009

Michaelis House

Part of this year’s London Open House was Michaelis House, 95a Oxford Gardens, London W10 6NF. This is what the documentation said of it:

Low-build 5-bedroom house with swimming pool, incorporating grass/sedum roof, borehole/heat pump hot water/heating system with solar panels (thermal and PV) and electric car.

The wife was keen on inspecting this prize example of innovative British design and competence, so, having arranged babysitting for the imp, we headed to Ladbroke Grove on Sunday afternoon, hoping to make it to the property in time for our appointment at 13:45 hours. Just days earlier we had received a vaguely threatening email from the Open House organisers that if we were no-shows, we’d be banned for all time from any future events, and it was with a suitably cowed demeanour that we scrambled on trains and taxis to get to Oxford Gardens.

We made it there just in time and found to our disenchantment that there was no attendance record, and to our glee that Mr Alex Michaelis, who designed and built the house for himself and his family, was at hand to welcome visitors. He was casually clad in t-shirt and khakis and sandals, and murmured pleasantries to the guests. There were quite a few people around, it has to be said. The Open House is a very popular annual programme, allowing entrance to properties that are usually out of bounds to the public. Thus, various modernist schools buildings and offices and, indeed, several residences are open to visit.

I managed to take a few pics here and there to give you all a dekko into the interior decor and sensibilities of the high and mighty. Mr Michaelis is quite the star architect – he designed David Cameron’s residence, the wife tells me – and so it’s fun to examine the way his mind works.

Here’s the design description (which I got from an A4 sheet that Mr Michaelis kindly pointed us to):

The aim of this project was to build an environmentally sustainable, detached, five-bedroom town house, complete with indoor pool and children’s play area. With restrictions to build no higher than the 6 ft boundary wall to achieve invisibility from the street, this two-storey house has been driven into the ground and therefore ensures that the site remains ‘an important open space between buildings’. Although the building is sunk into the ground, the design objective was to create a light and open space. On entering, the ground floor houses a large open plan living space surrounding a stairwell. A roof light above not only floods additional light into this area, but also penetrates light down into the central area of the lower floor. Additional light punches into the lower floor via two lightwells at opposite ends of the building, working in conjunction with carefully placed light slots, to provide each room with natural light. A large glass screen runs between the pool and the central hallway, increasing the sense of space and allowing light to filter through the lower level.

It has to be said that on a sunny day such as Sunday, we found the top level well lit, and even some of the lower level was nicely bright. There were a couple of rooms that we found a bit dark. Interestingly, the stairwell had an adjacent ramp for kids to slide down – a playful touch in an otherwise minimalist decor.

The environmentally green mandate has been fulfilled by three mutually reinforcing methods. First of all, the house enjoys the natural insulation provided by the earth around it. Next, an indirect heat exchange system passively supplies filtered and heated air throughout the habitable rooms, thereby decreasing the energy footprint. Lastly, solar panels on the awning provides electricity both to the house and to the electric car – a Citroen Berlingo – that the Michaelises use. In winter, the architect claims, the house only requires minimal power from the grid; in summer, the house generates a surplus that can be returned to the grid.

Because London’s water table has been rising over time, mainly because water-hungry industries no longer function in the city, flooding is a frequent problem. The Environment Agency therefore encourages the use of bore-wells, and Mr Michaelis has installed one in this property. It is a 110 metres deep, and the extracted water is filtered for domestic use. The temperature differential is used to power the heat pump that provides both the under-floor heating and hot water in the house.

Finally, “there’s a grass roof that reinstates the garden to the surrounding houses… planted bulbs flash colour across the seasons. The house also incorporates a climbing wall … circular wall openings to create an inside-outside adventure playground for the children.”


Check out floor plans and other design documentation here.


Space Bar said...

You know, I didn't get it when you said Open house - now I understand and it sounds very, very cool.

Fëanor said...

Yup, it is rather a neat idea. Been going on for years, but this is the first time we actually went to check it out. All sorts of properties are available to peek into - historic ones as well. Next year we'll make sure we visit several and not accept any birthday party invitations at all! Ha!

Suntouchmats said...

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