logo image

Gap House by Pitman Tozer Architects

The Gap House in London, UK. All photos of this house courtesy of Nick Kane.

The Gap House in London, UK. All photos of this house courtesy of Nick Kane.

The Gap House (2007) has been around for several years now, but is one of the first projects that got me excited about small-lot and infill housing.

Context. Designed by Pitman Tozer Architects, the house occupies a lot with a frontage of 8 ft in the Bayswater neighborhood of London. According to city documents, much of the neighborhood is a designated conservation (historical preservation) area that began as an upscale suburb of London in the Mid-19th Century. My sources – i.e.  my siblings who have both lived in London – confirm that it’s more residential than a city center, and is characterized by high-end row houses, such as in the photo below. Some larger houses have been split into flats and house middle-class families, students, etc. The main conservation zones appear to concentrate only on the residential streets of Bayswater. Thus the context of the Gap House appears to be a historically-sensitive residential area of tightly-packed single-family  row houses.

Indeed, the front elevation blends in almost too well with its neighbors. Only the clean lines and minimal window treatment distinguish it from the row houses on either side. (All photos of the Gap House by Nick Kane: www.nickkane.co.uk).

GapHouse_Nick Kane_02

 

The elevation is deceiving, as the building spills out into a wider courtyard area about halfway into the build space.  The general plan responds to the unusual lot shape and the access to light. According to the architects, the light and energy efficiency were prioritized in the placement of the bedrooms, living spaces and utilities:

“The key to achieving a solution where each habitable room has good daylight and feels spacious, even within the narrowest part, was to stack the smaller bedrooms at the front of the house facing the street and to organise the rear in a cascading configuration with the wet rooms and storage occupying the parts of the plan with no natural light.”

GapHouse_Nick Kane_05

Program. The scheme follows the strategy of other long, thin houses in plan. All the main living spaces (kitchen, living, courtyard) are pushed to back where there is more breathing room, while the three bedrooms are stacked on the street. Utility spaces and stairs occupy the darkest, middle section of the house. This, and the terracing of the levels in the back, appear to solve the problem of light access pretty well – a common design challenge for skinny infill houses like this, where bringing daylight to the center of the building can mean the difference between livable spaces and a dark cave.

View from courtyard.

View from courtyard.

Plans. Courtesy of Pitman Tozer

Plans. Courtesy of Pitman Tozer

Another thing I find interesting about this project is its organic quality of the volumes with respect to the site. The way the spaces squeeze into the available front lot and expand into the back where there is more available space is reminiscent of the construction you might find in informal cities. Much development in Asia today, for instance, occurs in gaps in streetfronts of similar size, where room for a front door is all that is required for a private residence.

Section. Courtesy of Pitman Tozer.

Section. Note the ground floor is below street level, while the neighboring stoops are above. Perhaps this allowed the designers to fit four stories into a zoning height limit that would normally be three? In any case, it keeps the facade in scale with its surroundings. Courtesy of Pitman Tozer.

 

The following three photos show an example of this in Ahmedabad, where a house was built in a former alleyway and courtyard. The 6-foot entryway leads to a more expansive living area that is lit from above.

Typical residential area in the Old City of Ahmedabad, India.

Typical residential area in the Old City of Ahmedabad, India.

Interior of the same house.

Interior of the same house.

The living area is much more spacious than the front door suggests.

The living area is much more spacious than the front door suggests.

 

The Gap House’s ability to achieve a quality like this in a heavily-regulated urban setting is inspiring for future development in western (and eastern, for that matter) cities, especially in neighborhoods that are historically preserved.  While many development strategies rely on the clearing of adjacent lots to accumulate a large enough area for building, historical preservation often denies this expansion, creating small and awkwardly shaped lots such as this.

Furthermore, designs such as this raise the question of how other cities could change their land use codes to make this organic approach to infill easier to execute in areas that already have dense development like Bayswater. It is tricky to imagine how such codes might be written, as infill like in Ahmedabad happens precisely because of a lack of regulation. And complete deregulation comes with plenty of other problems. However, it’s easy to see the  benefits that both the informal (India) and the more formal (Gap House) examples share, including more efficient use of urban space, higher density, a finer-grained streetscape (Jane Jacobs style), more visual variety and interest, smaller and therefore more affordable living spaces (possibly), etc.

There are plenty of other things to like about this house that have more to do with the fine detailing and design, rather than the context. Most notably, the staircase, which in itself is worthy of recognition.

Sculptural staircase. There is a skylight above that brings light into the core of the house.

Sculptural staircase. There is a skylight above that brings light into the core of the house.

Stairs from above.

Stairs from above.

Also, I love the clean transition between the living room and courtyard, though I wonder how often the Nanawall-like sliding doors can be kept open in London throughout the year in such an energy-efficient home.

GapHouse_Nick Kane_04

 

Credits:
Architects:                                Pitman Tozer
M&E Engineer:                        Arup (feasibility only), Richard Pearce & Associates
Structural Engineer:               Richard Tant Associates
Party Wall Surveyor:              Dunphy & Hayes
Energy Consultants:               Briary Energy
Landscape Consultant:          Nurture Nature
Contractor:                                Brownstone Ltd
All photographs:                      Nick Kane

 

Leave a Reply