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  • Writer's pictureNíall Hedderman

In Keeping

This is a meaningless phrase whos only real purpose is to mark it users as architecturally illiterate. Its role as signifier of clients who are best avoided is matched only by the word façade. A perfectly acceptable architectural term overused by those who delight in their own pomposity. But I digress.

Early in 2014 I was contacted by a new client who had purchased a bungalow in Braid Hills, a suburban part of South Edinburgh. The bungalow had been abandoned for a number of years and its layout was not suitable for his young family. The client had seen my previous work and wanted a contemporary design. His requirements would mean a significant enlargement of the house which would radically change its appearance and size, all of which would have faced resistance from the planing department. After a walk round the neighbourhood I realised there was a good argument in favour of a singular, contemporary design. Look at the image of the neighbourhood above, the site is highlighted in colour and no two houses in the neighbourhood are the same, so one more unique design would not affect the streetscape or character of the area. By being different, the new design would be ‘in keeping’ with the character of the neighbourhood. I used this argument during the planing application and, despite objections from several neighbours, the planning officer agreed with me and approved the design. 

Because the site has a steep fall any extension off the gable of the bungalow would be over a meter higher than the ground level outside, making entry to the building awkward at that point. Rather than fighting against the site, the new design works with it and creates a split level extension with the new living area at the same level as the ground, which allows one to walk into the house without using steps. A short flight of stairs leads up to the new kitchen and dining area, which is on the same level as the existing house. 

Another short flight of stairs leads from the new living area up to a gallery which overlooks the open plan space. 

The extension is a significant addition to the house, it adds over 50% to the floor area and is an uncompromisingly modern design which could have clashed with the existing bungalow. To avoid this, and to bring the overall composition together, the master bedroom dormer has a cantilevered canopy which opens to a balcony running the length of the house. The proportion of the dormer and the steel columns supporting the balcony match the rhythm of the extension exactly, unifying the overall elevation. 

While rhythm and proportion are important, so is the use of material. The overall design makes widespread use of white as a background colour to unify the existing bungalow and the new extension. White render on vertical planes and white painted plywood on horizontal planes work in harmony with stone and cedar cladding. 

Dealing with the numerous changes of geometry and material required a considerable number of detailed drawings. I was also responsible for administering the construction contract, inspecting the site once per week. This gave me the opportunity to ensure the design was realised to a high quality finish and to control any variation that arose during construction. 

The house is now a striking and dynamic design, with a clear distinction between the more public living area and private bedroom quarters. 

The large cantilever roof on the street elevation doesn’t just provide shelter, it marks the new entrance. 

The overhang formed by the gallery creates a sheltered deck outside the south facing living area. This provides shade in mid-summer and shelter on days when the weather is less than perfect. 

The interior of the new open plan living space is bright and well lit. The space flows easily from the entrance, though the living area and on to the kitchen and dining. 

A large skylight illuminates the kitchen and glass is used extensively to open the space up.

The space is split over three levels but it still feels intimate. 

The existing dormer on the north side of the house was squared off to accommodate the stair to the master bedroom. The large area of new glazing is translucent, to avoid overlooking the neighbours. Combined with the fact the glazing faces north, this crease a steady light source, with no glare or shadow. 

The master bedroom faces south and has a large balcony overlooking the rear garden. The design of the house ensures the balcony is private, not overlooked by any of the neighbours. 

By refusing to be constrained by conventional thinking the house has been successfully reimagined and the new owner loves it. 


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