This Matte Black London Home Is Topped With a Wildflower Meadow

This Matte Black London Home Is Topped With a Wildflower Meadow

By Lucy Wang
This award-winning, eco-friendly family home is an inspiring infill case study in southeast London.

With few desirable housing lots left on the market in central London, architect Jonathan Pile decided to take his chances on an irregular walled site that developers had written off as unviable. Tucked behind a row of buildings that front Deptford High Street, the awkwardly shaped lot had been used as a car repair yard for decades, and it still retained the remains of a small two-horse stable from the late 19th century.

Completed in May 2018, the Crossfield Street House is the residence of Jonathan Pile, his wife Katherine, and their 5-year-old son.

The view looking south from an upstairs dormer shows the two wildflower meadow roofs that top the home's single-story sections.

"Occupying a tight site in an ingenious way was probably the only way we were ever going to be able to achieve our ambition," explains Pile, who serves as the Director of Oval Partnership’s London studio. He and his partner, Katherine, were looking for a reasonably central location in a lively and leafy area with mixed community, low traffic, and good public transit options for their car-free family of three.

A view of the house from Crossfield Street. A small ground-floor window punctuates the existing brick boundary wall in a counterpoint to the home's large dormer.

"But in fact, it is the constraints of the site that have led to an unusual and attractive solution that works perfectly as a family home."

Since the walled site straddles two different Conservation Areas and sits opposite the Grade I-listed St. Paul’s Church, Pile sought a sensitive design approach that began with rooting out historic photographs of the area. A photo of a timber-clad house that once occupied the site in 1890 sparked the inspiration for a black-stained timber home.

A photo taken by local photographer Thankful Sturdee shows a house that used to occupy the site in 1890.

To provide a sense of privacy in the dense urban context, the house wraps around an outdoor courtyard sheltered from views and noise. The non-orthogonal building volumes—two single-story sections and a pitched-roof two-story structure—are carefully positioned so that all the main rooms open up to the outdoor space through full-height glazed doors made of steamed beech with un-lacquered brass door fittings.

The sheltered courtyard provides a quiet respite from the hustle and bustle of city living. "From anywhere on the ground floor, all that can be seen are trees, sky, and the church tower," says Pile.

"Having made the decision to have exposed Douglas fir ceiling joists, resolving the geometry of the structure over the main, non-orthogonal living area presented an interesting headache that took a while to figure out, particularly given the need also to accommodate two circular roof lights," notes Pile.

York stones salvaged from the site were reused as paving, while the threshold stone from the remains of the stable is installed as a marker of the front entrance.

"The orchestration of the views out was an important part of the design development," adds Pile, who strategically located windows with deep reveals to frame views of the outdoors without compromising privacy.

The view of the church from the upstairs dormer.

"The house was designed in such a way that it could function as a house without an upper floor, because we were not 100 percent confident we would get planning consent to build above the existing boundary wall," says Pile.

Impressively, the house is also designed to meet level four of the UK Code for Sustainable Homes, and it exceeds UK Building Regulations for energy performance and carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 20 percent. The airtight build is constructed with naturally finished, low-embodied-energy materials, and it features efficient water systems (including solar hot water heaters) and a living roof rich with native wildflowers and an integrated bat box and sparrow terrace.

"The wildflower roof has reached a sufficient height now that from within the living room and main bathroom grasses and the occasional flower (and occasional cat) can be seen through the circular roof lights," notes Pile.

"As a hidden family dwelling, it provides a strong sense of sanctuary and a rich variety of spaces to retreat to whilst simultaneously offering a modest but engaging presence on the street and improving the outlook of neighbors," explains Pile.

The design team repaired and repointed the London stock brickwork.

The rooftop garden is rich in native species.

The project received the 2019 RIBA London Region Award, and it was lauded by the jury for making a "significant contribution to the urban quality in this area"—and for its "clever layout and use of materials."

The exterior is clad in sawn softwood open-jointed boarding stained black.

The home's pitch-roofed volume is clad in black-stained vertical timber boarding, which serves as a rain screen over a liquid-applied membrane.

Pile continues: "We are increasingly involved in local discussions about the future of the High Street (officially deemed a Conservation Area 'At Risk'), and the house has become a useful case study to help inform discussions about the many other sensitive infill sites behind the High Street."

An aerial drawing of the site with the property in color.

Crossfield Street House site plan

Crossfield Street House section

Related Reading: A Perforated Brick Facade Shields a Glowing London Infill Home, A Reinvented Terrace House in London Is Chock-Full of Clever Storage

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Jonathan Pile RIBA Chartered Architect

Builder/General Contractor: Fullers Builders

Structural Engineer: Foster Structures

Kitchen Cabinetry Design/Installation: Robert Timmons Furniture

Environmental Design: Enhabit


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