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Inner realm: with a combined interest in the sculptural use of concrete and the process of making domestic rooms, Jamie Fobert creates a new family home within the shell of a not so humble Victorian terrace.

Jamie Fobert is known to most for his award-winning Anderson House, set deep within a central London Edwardian block (AR April 2004). With no elevations, and conforming to no particular domestic type, comparisons could easily be made between that house and Caruso St John's Brick House (p38). There are also formal and material similarities with this, his latest domestic project in London. Fobert, however, prefers to sever unnecessary and casual associations, choosing instead to begin by discussing his client and his site; the two practical fixes that make projects of this sort specific and rooted.

When Fobert met the client, the site had already been found; a decrepit four-storey semidetached Victorian villa. The clients had, however, had less success finding an architect, despite having considered a number of Fobert's distinguished contemporaries. As a successful artist partnership, they were a discerning pair, looking for more than reputation and style. Despite having seen his robust concrete installations for Aveda they were initially unsure about the use of in-situ concrete in a domestic setting. However, following a visit to the Anderson House they were more open to his distinctive aesthetic. Fobert's successful appointment may also have been due to his ability to quickly address the practical and aspirational problems of the brief; those concerning the structural movement of the existing fabric, and the social movement of the client's dynamic young family.

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Despite formal preoccupations, inspired by the work Chillida and Morandi (AR May 2005), Fobert recognises that architects can only bring so much to a project. With a refreshing openness when describing his design rationale, he adopts what he calls a roll-with-it attitude that makes the most of how things actually are; how the condition of an existing structure may focus his attention on site, and how a fabrication process may be exploited to bring out inherent material characteristics. He is the first to admit, therefore, that the latent potential of his architectural approach can only be fully realised in response to specifics of site and brief. Form is as much a means to an end, as an end in itself, and in consideration of this site and this family Fobert set about generating a distinctive and specifically shaped concrete figure; a compelling object in its own right, that would reinforce and support the decrepit structure; open up and connect upper and lower ground floors--to creating the desired scale of spaces; and reorder the spatial sequencing--to break up the traditional arrangement of front room, back room and rear extension.

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The figure is described by Fobert as a concrete table, that slides into the existing structure. It contains a snug on entrance level, and envelops the principal living space below, extending beyond the line of the existing lower ground floor. Articulated with the lustre and creases of the Anderson House, the concrete figure extends and folds in a manner reminiscent of his earlier freestanding installations. It is, however, much more than a pure object of contemplation; structurally the concrete is used to tie the perimeter walls together, and spatially it creates a strong longitudinal emphasis to connect house and garden.

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The spatial ordering of the house was a key consideration, based on the client's frustration with the format of London's traditional domestic types. While cellular spaces were permissible on the upper levels, with traditionally scaled bedrooms and bathrooms arranged around an exquisite and highly efficient winding stair, the living spaces needed to respond to the clients' desire for expansive space; serving as the focus for family life, where the children's homework and music practice could co-exist with cooking and entertaining.

Throughout, circulation responds to the distinct duality in scale, with the upper-ground level lobby serving two purposes. For guests, it is the main point of arrival, with an axial view to the garden via the snug, while for the family (who generally enter at the lower level), it forms part of their daily route; not as a threshold to the outside world, but between two stairs and two domestic realms; a place of linkage and transition between living rooms below and private rooms above. Illuminated by a crowning rooflight, the principal stair is also latent with sculptural intention, demonstrating Fobert's reading of Cubist composition. With a staggered arrangement of screen walls, concealed and revealed views play with movement and abstract composition, adding a further twist to this delightful family home.

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Article Details
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Author:Gregory, Rob
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Words:750
Previous Article:Modern romance; Hidden love: beyond an anonymous Victorian arched carriageway, Caruso St John bring New-Romanticism to the heart of Notting Hill.
Next Article:Plotting a future: Prewett Bizley's house serves as a useful bookend, not only to this north London terrace, but also as the third example in our...
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