CIfA 2019 Award for Architecture: Blockhouse – Mark Thomas Architects


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This steeply sloped site overlooks the Atlantic Ocean with views flanked by the mountain to the north and east.

Here nature, coupled with a set-back requirement, transforms an existing house into a flexible home for living that can operate as one or four dwellings. The sloping site is respected and is experienced as one moves through the home from level to level. Here the architect works purposefully with a plan, section, light, volume, tectonics and materiality, to ground the building while capitalising on the views.

The view from the site to the Atlantic is most prominent. The temptation to blur the inside and outside is resisted and a punctured façade is opted for, allowing views to be framed giving each space its own scale and view out. The mountain is framed by a double volume window and visually extends the living space beyond the limited upper part of the site. The architecture tackles sustainability issues with passive climatic control and recycling of building materials. This is achieved by creating a thoroughly insulated envelope, using cross ventilation as well as deep overhangs, louvered screens and shutters as shading devices.

The sliding shutters allow one to change and regulate the spaces based on the time of the day. Recycled brick is used to construct the envelope and is expressed externally and used with care on the inside in combination with timber and natural stone. The result is a layered aesthetic that echoes the traversing of the subtle level changes as the building negotiates the slope. Level changes also allow for options of intimate spaces.

Most memorable is the seating around the fireplace that appears larger because of the intimate scale of the reading room. The building’s best qualities are contained in its junctures. Careful attention to detail is practiced in the relationship between site and building, old and new and its materials. One is at once alerted to the commitment of the architect as a craftsman making the craft merge with its context to create a place.

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