Monday, July 21, 2008

Carmarthen Place SE1

Carmarthen Place SE1 in London, England by Emma Doherty and AiR

Materiality in architectural design all too often devolves into a selection of applique over structure, with inside and outside having little in common, such as painted gypsum board inside and brick outside. This example illustrates that these two sides are typically seen as facing separate realms: the harsh exterior world and the intimate interior. In this sense both require appropriate responses that often negate the use of one material in place of the other; gypsum board will not withstand weather, and brick (sometimes) does not provide the warmth and softness required indoors.

One material that is able to straddle these two separate yet interconnected realms is wood. Many species not only withstand the elements (with or without the aid of sealers) they improve with age and exposure to the sun, wind and rain. Inside, wood has a similar effect, aging gracefully underfoot, exhibiting the paths of inhabitants. Additionally, wood exudes a warmth that painted gypsum board cannot achieve, from its depth of grain and characteristic knots that both embody the life of the tree fallen to create a home.

Bermondsey Street Studio's project of two 2-bedroom houses, an artist's studio and courtyard at Carmarthen Place SE1 in London is a good example of timber's use inside and outside, because it is also used as the building's structure. Site constraints pointed towards off-site fabrication, so the client and architect Emma Doherty (with AiR) decided on an insulated structural panel that in effect became all three elements at once: inside surface, structure, and outside surface.

Other structural elements, comprised of columns and beams, are made of spruce, with larch used for the cladding. Both were obtained from sustainably-managed forests. Additionally custom interior fit-outs, such as stairs, were made from English Oak. The different woods starts to set up the inside-outside dichotomy that more dissimilar materials tend to do. The dark exterior, and its slat configuration, give the project a strong presence in its surroundings. The cool interiors give the spaces a crisp, contemporary look that complements the sleek kitchens and other elements. The project shows the versatility of wood, inside and out.

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