How to make sure your home suits its surroundings

Not all plots of land are straightforward to build on. Here’s how architects design properties to fit their environment perfectly

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A key part of an architect’s job is to work out how a new building or extension will fit into its surroundings. From the orientation to the cladding, roof-type to general colour scheme, every aspect has to be carefully thought out.

But creating houses that complement their environment doesn’t have to mean there’s no room for playfulness.

Vivian Chan, founder of architects Studio Verve, describes the thinking behind landscape-hugging houses and city dwellings where the tiniest, most awkward spaces have been used.

Domino Houses
Bounds Green, London

Domino Houses, in Bounds Green, London (Studio Verve)

The Domino Houses development is a scheme of eight, dark-brick family houses on a narrow slither of land in north-west London.

“It was a disused piece of land near to a railway, totally landlocked between the railway, woodland and council estates,” says Chan. “We decided to keep a central woodland, to create a communal space with a walkway through it for residents.

“We used rubble stones throughout the communal spaces and even the car park ended up being like a European courtyard. We had lots to consider in terms of privacy as it was overlooked by other housing and there was the noise from the railway.

“So keeping the trees was a good solution and we built in black brick to complement the colour.”

Maybank Ave House
Wembley, London

Architectural illustration of Maybank Ave House (Studio Verve)

This two-storey, round-cornered family house is planned for a ‘leftover’ triangle of land in Wembley, London.

Chan says: “We talk about this house as ‘the pick’ because it is the same shape as a guitar plectrum. There’s a typical semi-detached London house at the back of the garden, but this small piece of land which had originally belonged to it, has been sold off.

“This house responds very much to the shape of the land it is on and is very different from the houses around it. This is an awkward space, so the curved walls are intended to mitigate the sense of its mass and scale.

“Also it is completely clad with a series of black-stained timber fins which disappear to allow glazed apertures now and then. Of course, privacy is an issue in an urban area like this.”

Glen Leigh Curve House
Levens Green, East Hertford

Architectural illustration of Glen Leigh Curve House (Studio Verve)

This semi-circular, two-storey family house is being built in East Hertford.

“This house is on the green belt, set within half an acre but with sweeping views over open countryside,” says Chan. “The land slopes down in front of the building so we have designed it so we use the dip. It looks lower than you would expect for a two-storey house.

“We made it a curve because we wanted the house to completely hug the view. This means the view is the same from all the windows on the southern side. The green roof will have sedum wildflowers.

“If you look at the design from above you’ll see it is actually a large curve and a smaller curve. The entrance is where the two intersect.”

Narrow Lane Farmhouse
Ormskirk, West Lancashire

Narrow Lane Farmhouse, Ormskirk, West Lancashire (Studio Verve)

This contemporary farmhouse has a spectacular indoor swimming pool and is set in four acres of corn fields.

“Because the south side of the building is almost entirely glazed, overlooking the corn fields, we sunk it down slightly lower,” says Chan.

“When I started on the project the client wanted to extend an existing farmhouse, located next to a dangerous T-junction on Cut Lane. But we decided in the end to build from scratch, which meant we could really think where to place the house within the four-acre plot.”

For more inspiration tune into Grand Designs on Channel 4, where the RIBA House of the Year award sponsored by Hiscox Home Insurance will be judged during a four part series.

Click here for more information about how Hiscox can protect your dream home renovation project.

For more Hiscox:

The real story behind a grand design

What turns a home into architecture?

City vs country: what an architect sees that you don't

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