Last week the winner of the RIBA House of the Year 2015 was announced. This year the title was awarded to Flint House. Built for Lord Rothchild in Buckinghamshire, Flint House is an extraordinary building, which is truly connecting to its location and rooted in its context. It’s no wonder that this Skene Catling de la Peña designed house became the winner of the RIBA House of the Year 2015.
Flint house was built on the grounds of Lord Jacob Rothchild’s estate, Waddesdon Manor, within a highly agricultural context. The site is a linear island in the middle of fields, where most of the water from the estate leads to. The land itself is on a seam of chalk that extends from the White Cliffs of Dover through to Norfolk on the East coast of Britain., and is surrounded by fields which are littered with the material.
‘The site was a strange, still place, an anomaly of wilderness within its highly cultivated agricultural context,’ says Skene Catling. ‘It collects water, which supported these very particular mosses, lichen and ferns.’
The materials chosen for the building are linked to the geological context of the site. The architect utilised flint to clad the building, which gives the impression that the building is extruded from the ground. The Flint was chosen due to its rawness and the ability to change its colour dependant on how much chalk is cut off. The flint cladding itself is graded to portray a process of ‘civilizing’ with the lower layers where the stone forms a coarse, oily black rusticated base, through four variations before it reaches the refined smooth chalk upper layers that melt into the sky.
The building itself is designed as two wedges facing each other, one twice the size of the other. Creating a reciprocal relationship inward, rather than out towards the landscape. Where the rising mass of the building has been cut, terrazzo is used to portray the smooth inner surface of flint itself. Skene Catling intends that the mosses and lichens found on site ultimately reclaim the building, thus allowing it to fade further into the landscape.
The long linear building is crossed at three points, each time rooting the building into it’s context further
The Road cuts through at the lowest point. Here the walls are cut with bands of two-way mirror, creating rhythm and pulling the views of the countryside deep into the centre of the building.
The Garden cuts through at the centre of the building linking the living areas to the landscape. The floor slab rises up and folds back to become a bench in the garden and the to of the building blurs with the sky.
The River cuts between the sitting room and the study. Rather then submerging the river or diverting it, the river was allowed to maintain its course. This creates a series of spaces whilst continuing a visual relationship with the river, even whilst in the internal spaces. The walls of the cut where the river dwells is lined with raw flint, creating the aesthetic of a grotto. This boundary is used architecturally to delineate between public and private areas of the house, just as rivers and streams are used as boundaries into other counties and countries.
The competition for House of the Year was a tough decision this year. For the first time the shortlisted buildings were explored in a TV series by Channel Four. The Judges this year included architect James Manser, Chris Loyn and Mary Duggan. Their task was to find a building which best reflects the architecture of today. With technology changing the way we live, this was never going to be easy.
Flint house stood out from the crowd however:
“Described by judges as a marvel of geological evolution and construction, Flint House is a celebration of location, material and architectural design at its best,” said a statement from the RIBA.
I concur: Flint house shows that modern no longer means white; that iconic buildings can still respect and reflect their surroundings. With a baroque manor house for a neighbour, it’s easy to imagine a pastiche garden pavilion style home, but instead we see this masterpiece that has grown out of the ground and look totally at home there. I particularly love the materiality: I’ve always enjoyed the juxtaposition of glass with stone, reflecting the textures whilst comparing the rough with the smooth. The poetry of the stream running through the house is inspired. Usually we try to prevent water getting anywhere near a house – here it is made a feature, with glass floors floating over the river, creating a little snapshot into this magical fern filled world. Well done Charlotte Skene Catling and her brave client Lord Rothchild!
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