9 Stock Orchard Street

9 Stock Orchard Street in London, England by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects, 2001

The following text and images are by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects for the husband and wife team's house and studio in London.

Faced with a blank sheet of paper and a couple of buildings to design, where do you start? Any novelist will tell you: write about what you know. What we know is that living and working from the same building means our two lives (work and home) are never easily distinguished, but rather are irrevocably intertwined. An architect's response to this might be: separate the two physically; clarify zones; keep activities distinct; apply order. The person who lives and works there knows this is impossible.

The building sits at the end of a row of Victorian terraced houses. One block, the office, bounds a railway line. A middle block, containing the living areas and conference rooms, is covered with a tilted roof, planted as a meadow. A tower of books rises through this, with a small reading room at the top. The roof is also pierced by rooflights and the top of the larder. Furthest away from the railway, a block contains the bedrooms.

Most offices display their corporate pretensions through shiny, hard surfaces; work is set apart from home, and therefore the architecture must reflect this. In our project, such separation is not possible or desirable. We have therefore wrapped the office in a domestic technology, strips of padded fabric, quilted like a duvet, upholstering the office like a chair, reuniting the domestic artefact with the place of work. It acts as a rainscreen over a timber frame. The material chosen has lasted years of storms on North Sea Oilrigs, so benign London is hardly a challenge. If, or when, it begins to decay, we can unwrap it and start again, maybe in a different colour.

The Dining Room in Stock Orchard Street occupies a space which positions the table ambiguously between the house and the office, recognising the claims of both to the use of its surface. At times the table is used as a conference room for the office, the place of official business. At other times it can be united with the house and plays the role of the formal dining room.