birds portchmouth russum architects: downley house birds portchmouth russum architects: downley house
mar 05, 2013

birds portchmouth russum architects: downley house

‘downley house’ by birds portchmouth russum architects, london, englandimage © nick kaneall images courtesy of birds portchmouth russum architects



located in south down’s national park in london, the ‘downley house’ is an impressive private residence that also holds important social and ecological features while providing the necessary spaces for the client, who also doubled as contractor. local practice birds portchmouth russum architects wasgiven a large plot of lush land with an existing ruin; after acquiring approval to renovate and extend the dilapidated stone structure, the architectsdecided to in fact inset the new construction from the old to allow it to become a landscape element paying homage to the memory of the site. the residence can be thought of as a sequence of passage; an exterior promenade takes visitors through the gardens, circular courtyards, semi-hiddenwalkways under vegetative pergolas and finally to the main entrance at the heart of the path, the barrel-shaped social area. the circulation then continues through to the inside of the dwelling, with staircases located in the cylindrical masses on either side of the central vaulted volume that service the separated guest wing and family wing of the household. another staircase towards the back end takes one up to the rooftop garden with views of the townbefore bridging back to the higher end of the hill, successfully marking a journey through the property back to the verdant landscape that so defines thecharacter of the project.


a concrete foundation and retaining walls lay the base-work for the cross laminated timber (CLT) members that comprise the main structural skeleton.CLT construction benefits from lighter material that retains a strong structural profile, versatile in that it can be used for walls and floors in a variety ofmethods, pliable, and as it uses less mass it cuts down on wasted wood. the primary structure of the dwelling was erected in only six weeks with a crane using this strategy, later clad in local stone or wood. the barrel element or ‘foudre’, as explained by the architects, is a ribbed construction wrapped incurved CLT sheets and clad in copper roofing. the assembly resulted in a high quality of insulation and sealing, with the use of earth tubes, mechanical ventilation with heat recovery and a ground source heat pump eliminates the need for additional heating energy in the winter time. to further push the home’s sustainable features, every year the ditcham park school students take a trip to the site to learn about all the strategies used.



approach from the high end of the siteimage © nick kane



view from the yardimage © nick kane



circular court entrance to the promenadeimage © nick kane



wooden pergola defining the walkway, natural stone and wood claddingimage © nick kane



main entrance at the ‘foudre’ or barreled volumeimage © nick kane



inside the main entrance(left) stairs lead up to the family wing(right) view from the upstairs with voids in the floors allowing light to penetrate throughimages © nick kane



view up the cylindrical staircase volumeimage © nick kane



foudre interior with exposed wooden ribsimage © nick kane



kitchenimage © nick kane



light wellimage © nick kane



bedroom with views of the rural landscapeimage © nick kane



illuminated at nightimages © nick kane




site plan



floor plan / level 0



floor plan / level 1



floor plan / level 2












components and sequence through the promenade



project info:



structural engineers: matthew wells / techniker ltdm&e engineers: andy ford, mott macdonald fulcrumproject managers: giles ruckert and mark wellbeloved / projec-techniques ltdlandscape architects: noel farrer / farrer huxley associatescost: 2.5 million pounds

  • Some odd choices here and there but overall quite magical, and a wonderful meld of distant past and present in a timeless English landscape. One hopes there are druidic celebrations every solstice in the circular courtyard.

    Mort D'Urban says:
  • WOW, I have never seen anything like this and I have to say, I find this to be absolutely incredible.

    justin says:
  • Beautiful site for a home.

    Ron Smith says:
  • wonderfully eccentric

    dbkii says:

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