DSDHA Architects : Architects Deborah Saunt and David Hills used underground rooms and mirrors to help disguise the volume of their house. The Covert House. Its name however is being driven by its architecture form – a floor above the ground and one sunken into the ground.
The Covert House might lie hidden from view in Clapham Old Town, in the heart of a Conservation Area, just two miles from Parliament Square and London’s West End, but its interiors and architecture is definitely worth a study. Set in a pastoral landscape of mature trees and gardens, the house acts a case study for testing several hypotheses. These span from interrogating the idea of the ‘domestic’ at the beginning of the twenty-first century, through to asking how social and technological sustainability as well as well-being might be integrated into high quality design, without compromise.
At a strategic urban scale, by reclaiming an overgrown backland garden the design postulates on how a global city like London might urgently provide new housing within its fiercely defended low-density backlands, yet close to the historic centre.
As a discreet 135 square meter family home, set partially into the ground to limit its height and hidden from view by new tree planting, Covert House is designed with a few simple rules; to use the most sustainable design principles possible whilst deploying a limited material palette, yet creating a sense of domesticity within a concrete armature, that does not disturb its sensitive setting and the 23 neighboring properties adjoining the site.
Materials are either concrete – cast on site, left raw and unfinished, or precise and highly articulated – read against ‘whiteness’, be it in the form of natural light, controlled and carefully calibrated to bring animation and delight deep into the plan, or represented though the use of white as a finish for all the remaining surfaces beyond the concrete. The resultant design is precise and sculpted; materially rich yet calm and welcoming as a place in which to live.
The section and levels of the house incorporate lower floor courtyards to flood every room with natural light, and to always provide occupants with a direct visual connection to the garden and sky above. An elegant white concrete stair effortlessly mediates the spatial experience between levels within a double height space.
Heat recovery systems, rainwater harvesting and solar panels allow an environmental performance that exceeds Code 4, in line with Passivhaus standards.
The clarity of the architecture echoes the carved forms of the artist Chillida, and is predicated on an engagement with craft and specificity, at a time when standardisation and off-site construction are widely promoted. The project represents an insistence on combining everyday needs with a search for new forms of beauty. As designers the founder couple of DSDHA have set a new standard with this home.
DSDHA’s work has been recognized with 12 RIBA Awards in the last decade, and has twice been nominated for the European Union Mies Van Der Rohe Prize for Contemporary Architecture. DSDHA’s architecture is always evolving, and thereby each project is a bespoke response to a unique brief through dialogue with the space occupiers.
Covert House has been shortlisted for RIBA London Award 2016 among the 68 buildings in the Capital.