Sparrow House

Winner of the RIBA Ibstock Downland Prize 2004

Planning Approval was achieved at Appeal for ‘SparrowHouse’ after a three year Planning process. The site itself, a suburban 1920’s housing estate in Lewes, East Sussex, had a fifteen-year history of planning application refusals.When the clients found it they quickly realised that it had not been tested from the point of view of a bespoke architectural proposition. Previous developers had simply tried to ‘shoehorn’ readymade designs for bungalows onto this rather unusual plot of land with quite particular constraints.

The clients Duncan, Katie + two year old Molly Baker-Brown saw this project as a proto-type for an affordable contemporary designed family home with deep green ideals – it cost £140,000 to build which is very competitive. Too often ‘eco homes’ are not able to marry the issues of a contemporary architectural language, with urban or suburban situations and affordable budgets. SparrowHouse has attempted to do this. The house is named after the native House Sparrows that are still to be found locally.

The design responds to the very specific constraints of this left-over land by creating a contemporary solar-powered house constructed of local environmentally friendly materials, that make best use of the site to create a sense of openness & space within a confined suburban plot.

The solution – a courtyard house that opens up to the south bringing the garden into the house and vice-versa. ‘Sparrow House’ is cut into the natural slope of the land. From the street it nestles down 1m below the street level. Keeping the roof line low was one of the constraints imposed by the District Council Planners. Keeping the house narrow (at 6m) meant that Sparrow House keeps a polite distance from its neighbours, but it is long at 17m. Hence the need for south-facing courtyard with folding doors creating the main source of natural light and the hub of Sparrow House.

The sloped site is made the most of by allowing for a studio mezzanine to the front of the site, with a sloped roof creating a double-height space above the dining room. The front living accommodation is linked to the rear by a long galley-type kitchen overlooking the courtyard.

BBM focus on sustainable solutions to architectural propositions. Sparrow House responds to this by using locally grown sweet chestnut as cladding, scaffold boards salvaged from the site works for flooring + worktops, English lambs wool as insulation, English softwood for the timber frame and even building papers/ vapour checks made from recycled paper and plastic. The ground floor has under-floor heating fuelled by a flat bed solar panel. The screed floor finish acts as a heat sink regulating the internal temperature. At present the gas bills for this house are about £30 per quarter with electricity at £75 per quarter!

Interiors, Residential