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Anderson shelter: on an apparently impossible site in the heart of London, with significant constraints, Jamie Fobert Architects have derived a new form of contemporary house.

The Anderson House, concealed on an invisible backyard site within a central London Georgian block, is exemplary, not least because there must be hundreds of similar sites awaiting adaptation, dormant beneath the crumbling roofscapes of cities around the globe, but also, having no discernible external form, it explores the essence of urban dwelling and offers a new contemporary housing type--a shift from loft life to yard life.

The derelict building was a two-storey shoe factory set above a small basement. Hemmed in on all sides, and accessible only via a metre-wide passageway between two five-storey buildings, few would have supported the proposal to build a 125[m.sup.2] home. But that is precisely what has been achieved.

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For Jamie Fobert, the creation of this contemporary cave was an opportunity to pursue his own architectural fascination that prioritizes the resolution of the room. The success of the house is testament to nine years spent with David Chipperfield, where he learnt to manipulate space on projects like Nick Knight's house (AR April 1990), and the subsequent eight years spent evolving his own work, work that attracted the client for this house--drawn by Fobert's trademark cast concrete benches and counters at the Aveda shop in Marylebone. Much like these installations, to avoid further complicating the daunting task of issuing 60 party wall notices, the structural core of the house was set-in from the 7m deep boundary. Conceived as an inserted object, avoiding underpinning party walls, the centralized armature does all the work. Bearing on sixteen 20m deep piles, a concrete raft folds, contorts and extends around the kitchen and living room as a series of fully expressed shear walls and slabs. So, from Aveda where an interior was ordered by massive folded concrete furniture, here a collection of rooms is structurally and spatially reinforced by a single folded concrete form. Around this, the perimeter is lined with sound insulating dry-wall, douglas fir screens conceal circulation, storage and ancillary spaces, and two bedrooms are located within steel huts that replicate the former shoe factory's silhouette above. Unlike many contemporary homes, where circulation is celebrated with feature staircases and galleries in loft-like spaces, containment is increased by additional layers of enclosure. Recalling a German Treppenraum (which literally translates as stair-space), the stair is isolated from the living spaces in a residual notch of land that turns the south-west corner of the plot. Set within this, the kitchen is small, functional, and enclosed, the guest and master bedrooms are remote, and the living room is expansive.

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Light and circulation are resolved with virtuosity as lightwells punctuate the subterranean route and living spaces. Upon entering the house, visitors immediately see sky through a folded rooflight, before passing beneath the retained parapet wall that maintains rights of light to the adjacent properties. From here light articulates two routes: either directly into the living space to the right, or by drawing you up the cavernous stair to the bedrooms above. At the centre of the plan, a three-way lightwell brings light and orientation to the heart of the house, illuminating the kitchen, living room, guest and master bedrooms, in a single architectural move that serves as the eyes and lungs of the house, providing views and ventilation. Two additional rooflights give dramatic sky views from the living room and master bedroom.

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While close scrutiny demonstrates many highly considered details, with crisp rooflights and gently cupped joinery panels, Fobert maintains a refreshing loose attitude, that he says 'rolls with' the practical outcomes of construction; accepting inherent imperfections gives character to material, turning on-site surprises to an advantage. As-struck concrete finishes differ to provide unique surfaces, and devices such as the altar-like concrete bench and battered rear wall in the living room cleverly conceal an unexpectedly high party wall footing and a new rooftop gutter.

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Like its namesake, this Anderson Shelter derives its quiet beauty from modest means, and as his first major new-build project, reveals Fobert as an architect who, being passionate about construction, will no doubt produce more highly distinguished work.

Architect

Jamie Fobert Architects: Jamie Fobert, Kevin Allsop, Emily Roberts, Thomas Spanger, Juan Cuevas Pareras

Structural engineer

Michael Barclay Parntnership

Party wall

Arena Property Services

Contractor

Horgan Borthers

Photographs

Dennis Gilbert / VIEW
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Ar House
Author:Gregory, Rob
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 1, 2004
Words:725
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