The role of an architect is limited, says Roger Zogolovitch, 68, of his own profession. “I wanted to be involved in every aspect, from start to finish, so I’ve been a developer for 30 years.”
He adds: “I became involved in the badlands and the backlands — gap and infill sites — maybe because they were all I could afford when I started out. They’re the forgotten bits — but also the opportunities. Tough constraints encourage good architecture.
If a space is small or awkward, or has a tree in it, or is jammed right up against a railway, it inspires me. If a site is hemmed in, then you try to make an interior full of light and texture out of it.”
In 1975, Zogolovitch was a founder of architecture practice CZWG. His job was to have ideas and find developers. After a few years, he felt he could do the role of developer all by himself.
In 1982, when he was 35, he sold a bit of land, and raised enough money to get started. Scouring the Evening Standard’s small ads section, he spotted a site — a small repair garage in a grotty bit of Barnsbury N1. “So I rushed straight round.”
Zogolovitch bought it for £27,000, got planning permission for three mews houses, and built what were then radical “upside-down” houses, with the bedrooms below and the living spaces above. Selling those funded the next move, which was to develop an old cinema site in Ladbroke Grove, on which he built 16 artists’ studios.
Having left CZWG, he continued to operate on his own until 2003, when he set up his current venture, Solidspace. His son, Gus, a former banker, joined him, and Zogolovitch brought in other architects to design amazing houses in tricky little sites tucked away all over London. They all use what he has trademarked as “Solidspace DNA” — a distinct sort of split-level, light-filled interior layout system that can work inside any new building.
For Zogolovitch, the holy grail of design consists of space, light and character. “Glamour and luxury aren’t about marble finishes, fancy taps or Jacuzzi sprays,” he says passionately. “Luxury is to do with space and light.”
Terrace houses, he explains, used to be divided into horizontal levels, separating servants and owners. Since we don’t live like that any more, he has cleverly rethought the internal levels, making the half-landings of the staircase the floors, and staggered those levels within the volume of the house. Because of this, all Solidspace homes are split-level, and the levels interconnect via openings and the stairways, making a huge, interesting, open-plan living space.
“And there’s always a double-height volume somewhere,” he adds.
This makes the home feel totally different inside. Regardless of the floor space, extra height adds grandeur and expanse, while people can talk to each other at different levels, as the spaces interconnect. Only the bedrooms and bathrooms are closed off — the rest is open and fluid. Where possible, homes also get a pop-up roof terrace or a winter garden.
Small but mighty
“Because of the housing shortage, almost anything will sell,” he says. “But members of the buying public need to tell developers that they aren’t satisfied with the commonplace homes they are being sold. We want people to love what we build.”
He adds: “Like artisanal bakers making small batches of really good bread rolls, we need lots more individual small developers using these leftover London spaces. They already have great character — the development I am just starting in Bermondsey had an old Victorian wall on the site. We are keeping it, at great expense. It adds character and I like it.
“But planning for small developments needs to get easier. The planners could make a rule book for what small developers can or can’t do, which developers would like, and would speed things up.”
The newly established London Land Commission could help, too. When local authorities need cash, they sell off their land — usually to the highest bidder. But instead, Zogolovitch says, they should sell it to the land commission, which would let small developers put something special on it.
The money would come back to the local authority when the homes were eventually sold. “London can tackle housing supply by building small developments on small plots,” he adds. “And the advantage of building homes in infill, or gap sites, is that they are already plugged into everything — transport, schools, shops. And the space looks better, too.”
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