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Piers Taylor Review’s Gianni Botsford’s House in a Garden for AT

Gianni Botsford shows how perhaps more than any other architect working in his field, the single family dwelling can be a fascinating basis for invention. In order to fully understand the genesis of Botsford’s latest project ‘House in a Garden’, it is useful to look at Botsford’s background, and a precursor project to this one – Light House (1996-2005). Both projects are a manifestation of his interest in ‘local adaption’ in not dissimilar contexts in West London.  Botsford’s fascination with how the specifics of site could be rigorously mapped and used to inform architecture began when he studied at the AA with John Frazer in the early 1990s. Frazer’s diploma unit 11 explored  ‘evolutionary architecture’ as an attempt to evolve form and structure in a kind of simulation of the developmental processes of nature.

Frazer was a hugely important figure in Botsford’s intellectual life. Already 34, Botsford went to the AA to study with Frazer to learn a different mode of designing altogether from that which he’d been used to for the proceeding ten years. Botsford had grown tired of design-by-instinct or architecture as style and his own lack of rigour in the process of design, and describes his time in Frazer’s unit as transformative. Botsford says ‘Frazer was interested in thinking big about the earth’s problems; interested in the earth’s systems and how these interconnected’. Frazer discouraged students from ‘designing’ in the way that most architects do – before a framework is fully defined.

Instead, Frazer would encourage the use of computational systems that layered up information to allow issues to be revealed and seen in a new way. Botsford describes how he’d hardly thought about sunlight – the issue that has defined his work for the last 20 years – until he met Frazer. Working with Frazer, Botsford developed sophisticated three dimensional solar mapping and generative tools that allowed him to gather information from a site that could be used as a basis for design. After leaving the AA, Botsford evolved (in conjunction with Arup) this way of working for his first significant commission – Light House, which was on a backland site in Notting Hill. The project took 9 years to design and realise and allowed Botsford to understand how Frazer’s ideas about evolutionary architecture could be married to a domestic typology and a tight urban site.

House in a Garden effectively began in 2007 and picks up where Light House left off. It is on another backland site, this time immediately adjacent to Botsford’s own apartment (Garden Apartment) that he has lived in for many years. A flat roofed bungalow had been built on the site in the 1960s and Botsford had spent much time observing how the sunlight affected the bungalow and its garden, before eventually buying the site, and developing his own self initiated proposal for a replacement dwelling as a prospective development building on the knowledge gained in ‘Light House’. The project was purchased post-planning by a developer who was savvy enough not to meddle with Botsford’s scheme, and remained relatively hands-off during the development of the project for construction. Although a big risk for Botsford initially, the pay off has been an autonomy and creative freedom that is often lacking with too close an involvement from a client.

The key move is understanding how to harness the sun in a context that is surrounded by 5 storey buildings, and the dominant roof form of ‘House in a Garden’ is a reflection of this in allowing sunlight to penetrate into the main living space. The tip of the roof is the lowest position that sunlight in the winter equinox reaches in a site which is surrounded by listed early Victorian villas. The roof form is defined by ensuring that sunlight can penetrate into the garden courtyards each side of the living space in conjunction with maintaining views and light for the neighbouring buildings. The roof itself it a strikingly beautiful copper clad funnel, with an expressed double curved timber structure on the interior, making the main living space feel as if it is under a lightweight tent.

The house isn’t only about the roof, however. There are two subterranean floors below the ground floor living room, which also benefit from Botsford’s forensic analysis of the site, receiving light and gaining views of the sky via lightwells and internal courtyards. The house provides an unusual experience in London, where sites are so often restricted and infill typically means being bound on either side by existing buildings, and to the front by the street. Emerging back up to ground level is akin to arriving on a rooftop, surrounded by even taller buildings, and yet with a genuine sense of tranquillity and privacy.

House in a Garden is an inverse of its earlier cousin, Light House, in that the formal relationships with sun and site are explicit rather than implicit. The project provides a useful companion to Light House in showing how careful site analysis and a rigorous methodology can produce strikingly different results. Mapping often has a binary relationship with architecture: what gets built looks like the map, but Botsford is clever enough to allow his work to transcend the data that underpins it. Botsford is a rare architect that has no stylistic preconceptions: each of his houses (including the Lubetkin Prize winning Casa Ki-Ké in Costa Rica and Layered Gallery in London) show the same focussed application of an idea but look completely different from one another. He demonstrates how an extraordinary body of work can be developed from the most straightforward of building typologies. Whatever Botsford does next, we know it won’t be like anything he has done before.

Piers Taylor 2019


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Glenn Murcutt: Newport Mosque

Piers Taylor’s Review of Glenn Murcutt’s Mosque – the Australian Islamic Centre – is in April’s edition of the Architectural Review

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Contemporary Vernacular Design

FullSizeRender 29IMG_5073 2IMG_3284 2IMG_1843 2Piers Taylor was delighted to be asked by Clare Nash to write the foreword to her new book on British Housing – which is now out in print and can be bought HERE

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Bathampton Park & Ride

IMG_4745This letter, below, was sent to all Bath Councillors, Bath’s MP, UNESCO, Historic England and the Bath Preservation Trust

Dear Sir/Madam

We, the undersigned, are concerned about the council’s seemingly blind support for a Park & Ride on the historic Bathampton Meadows, for which the council have consistently failed to provide any demonstrable need.

The overriding planning consideration enshrined in the NPPF states in para 132 that substantial harm to a World Heritage Site should be wholly exceptional. The green setting of the World Heritage Site is an integral part of the Georgian townscape according to UNESCO, and features in all three criteria for WHS inscription.

An east Park & Ride would inflict harm, which the Bath Preservation Trust argues would be substantial, to the World Heritage site by destroying the very significant relationship between the city and its green open landscape setting in the east of the city. According to the NPPF, local authorities should refuse consent for schemes which will lead to substantial harm unless the harm ‘is necessary to achieve substantial public benefits’.

B&NES has conspicuously failed to demonstrate that there are any substantial public benefits to this scheme. The requirement to justify the ‘need’ for an east Park & Ride site is a primary consideration, and one that has not so far been fulfilled.

Contrary to the Council’s statement to Cabinet (para 8.1, p35) the Inspector did not accept that need has been established but said that it would be necessary to establish need prior to a site being brought forward. A site has now been brought forward, without the council demonstrating this need.

Policy ST6 (original draft) states that there should be no unacceptable impact on the World Heritage Site. The proposed revised draft states that there needs to be clear and convincing justification for any harm to the World Heritage Site, and that the degree of harm should be weighed against the level of public benefit.

Compelling current national and international academic research and credible statistical evidence from local organisations show that a Park & Ride in the east of Bath will not produce the public benefit to outweigh the substantial harm.

Therefore, at present, there is neither convincing justification nor any indication of the level of public benefit (as required in ST6). In summary, this scheme is contrary to both national and local policy. The majority of Bath residents also do not want the eastern Park and Ride on this site.

The Council now admit themselves that an East Park & Ride will do little or nothing to improve congestion on the London Road, and thus in turn to improve air pollution.

Demand for parking in Bath rarely exceeds supply, except during the Christmas market, so a provision for peak days should be made, not year round over-provision.

The Council’s own forecast projects that an east Park & Ride will only reduce London Road traffic by 5% by 2029, and it may increase congestion on the main eastern routes and in east-of-Bath rural areas as more people use their cars to get to the Park & Ride rather than use public transport.  In addition to this, the main A4-London Road into Bath will continue to be heavily used by A46/A36 through traffic (including HGVs) and by local residents and the school run, all of which are not the expected users of a new Park & Ride.

Local resident car use will continue to clog up our roads until they are incentivised not to drive into the centre via better and cheaper public transport or by some form of congestion charging. In addition, rural public transport services will actually decrease as demand is impacted by the Park & Ride.

Since congestion will not improve, there is no case for any improvement in air quality or reduction of emissions.  Local resident car use will continue, and additionally there is evidence to suggest that Park & Rides encourage people back into their cars to drive to a Park & Ride, producing a net increase in pollution, especially in the sensitive areas around Bathampton and Batheaston that are already close to national poor air-quality limits. Compulsory low emission zones incentivising less polluting cars would be more effective.

We also believe that, contrary to what the Bath Chamber of Commerce hopes it will achieve, this Park & Ride will not improve connectivity to support business growth. ‘Predict and provide’ models of transport provision have been shown to attract and encourage further car use. Surely ‘future proofing’ means looking to innovative future sustainable transport solutions and encouraging people out of their cars?

Both sites B and F have serious flaws as viable options because of their visibility in important long views, openness and their significant role as the green setting of the eastern part of the World Heritage Site. The harm to these valued qualities, as well as to the natural environment, would be substantial, and we cannot see that any screening would either be appropriate in a context that is open, flat grassland or sufficiently mitigate this harm.

In summary, there is poor evidence of need for this Park & Ride, little evidence of public benefit, undisputed evidence of harm, inconsistency of approach by B&NES in terms of city-centre parking, and a worrying lack of vision and innovation.

The East of Bath Park & Ride is an expensive, divisive, diversionary white elephant, necessitating significant borrowing on the part of the council –  investment which could be better spent on demand management measures. We urge the Council to think again.

Yours faithfully

Piers Taylor, Architect & Broadcaster

Peter Clegg, Senior Partner, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios & Professor of Architecture, University of Bath, RIBA Stirling Prize Winner

Andrew Grant, Director, Grant Associates Landscape Architects, RIBA Stirling Prize Winner
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