Londoners Jonnie and Rachel Allen were looking for a way to stay in their South West London garden apartment instead of moving out to the suburbs. They envisioned a backyard solution that would provide extra space for work and play—one that was sustainable, easy to assemble and disassemble, and budget-friendly to boot.
Up for the challenge was Studio Ben Allen, a London-based architecture studio that has developed an expertise in well-being and health, having completed the first WELL Building Standard–certified project in Europe.
Says studio founder Ben Allen, "From the start, the client wanted a highly sustainable structure that was innovative from both a design and environmental point of view."
With a tight budget to balance, the firm began exploring ideas for fabrication, material selection, and design. They determined that a series of plywood and MDF elements cut out using a 2D flat-bed CNC mill would be easy to source and fabricate. Each element would be notched, allowing them to interlock, or have pre-drilled holes. This would save time on measuring and drilling on-site, ultimately speeding up the construction process.
The flat-pack components arrived on site as a kit of parts. Constructing the pavilion frame only took two people two days to complete. On top of that, the construction process was free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) because no on-site cutting was required.
The resulting design is not only safer and more environmentally responsible for the clients, but also for the fabricators. "The health and well-being of fabricators will be a big issue in coming years as the conditions on construction sites, particularly in relation to air quality and particulate matter, remain extremely poor," says Allen.
For the exterior of A Room in the Garden, the firm was interested in exploring both the playful aspects of a garden folly—a decorative feature in traditional English gardens—and a complex geometry. The team selected a patterned, green cladding that "is intended to partially and surreally camouflage the building in its natural surroundings." Dark green near the base of the building, it gradually evolves into lighter shades at the top.
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In plan, the pavilion follows the form of an octagon, giving way to a hexagonal roof that frames a square skylight. The interior is fit out with materials and colors that match the exterior, placing an emphasis on tactile textiles and multifunctional, transforming pieces like a fold-out bed and a built-in desk.
Spray insulation means that it takes little energy to heat the building for year-round use. Underfloor heating, lighting, roof lighting, and an extract fan with a humidistat can all be controlled remotely from a smart phone. During the summer, double doors allow fresh air to waft in.
If the family decides to move or take down the pavilion, the building’s flat-pack components are simple to demount and then reassemble in a new location—a major tenet of circular design.
Architects: Studio Ben Allen / @studiobenallen
Team: Ben Allen, Omar Ghazal, Marco Nicastro, Arthur Wong, Massine Yallaoui
Structural Engineer: Format Engineers
Landscape design: Daniel Bell Landskip
Installer: Sullivan and Company
CNC cutting: Hub Workshop
Photography + film: Ben Tynegate
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