Ben and Kay Adam-Smith sit down with Chris Parsons from Parsons + Whittley to run through the brief for their self build project.
Discussing our self build project brief
This podcast is slightly different to normal because we're eavesdropping on a meeting! And this is no ordinary meeting: it's the initial briefing session with our Passivhaus architecture specialists, Parsons + Whittley. Chris and John sat down with us.
So, we hear a few extracts from that meeting.
Items on the agenda
- Our accommodation requirements
- Stylistic preferences
- Constraints (including planning history)
There's no such word as ‘no' when compiling the brief
As Kay reads through our list of accommodation requirements, she gets to the snug room.
Kay says: “I'd really love a fireplace but I'm told I can't have a fireplace!”
Chris responds: “There's no such thing as can't. Everyone recognises the emotional attachment to a heat source. It can be done. We have done wood-burners, for example. You need a really good one because you need to control the air supply etcetera.”
However, Chris goes on to explain that one of the underlying benefits of a Passivhaus is that they are ‘innately comfortable'. With the indoor environment so pleasant, you don't come into the house and shiver . . . and so there's no need to sit around a heat source.
How could we build in flexibility?
Where we currently live (with a floor area of 60 square metres) has been a squeeze as our family has grown. This has meant we can no longer have guests to stay unless they are prepared to brave the sofa.
So in our new house we'd love some flexibility of how we might accommodate more guests at Christmas, for example, without building five guest rooms!
We are keen to use all the space every day (or get as close to this mantra as we possibly can); and let rooms do double duty when we have people to stay.
Creating ample storage space
With an attic brimming with ‘stuff' we highlight storage as being something that's important in the new house.
Accustomed to using our attic space, we ask Chris whether building a warm roof (also known as a Cathedral roof) is the best option.
Chris replies: “I would rather keep everything within a simple thermal envelope because that just makes it easier to build, cheaper to build, more efficient, more effective. To disrupt that for storage . . . maybe there are better options.”
Having all of our possessions within the house would also make them easier to access. Plus we might be more ruthless in accessing whether we really need everything (or can have a clear-out).
Where is the balance between traditional and modern?
While my aesthetic tastes have broadened since launching the podcast, Kay's favourite buildings are period properties.
That said, we both like modern interiors – open plan living, big windows that bring in lots of light, etc.
So while the external appearance matters to me it is not as important as designing a house that all the family loves. So, how do we do this?
Chris explains: “It's about distilling what it is that you like about that [the buildings you love] and trying to make sure we deliver it. We might be a little bit subtle about how we make sure it's still a modern home, in terms of the facilities, the way that you use it, the spaces that are available.”
Chris continues: “So they do present conflicts, because the kind of stuff you like [old cottages etc.] is driven from an architectural vernacular which is quite limiting in terms of the spaces available. It was basically driven by how big a tree can you find. Because if you're going to have a rafter or beam you're limited by the size you can get.”
Building with ‘natural' materials will have a cost impact
Kay and I are both drawn to materials like straw bales, lime render, clay plaster, thatched roofs, etc.
Upon hearing our list Chris wanted to chip in: “There's a sort of sliding scale of really super-duper, sustainable materials which is almost diametrically opposed to the costs.”
“The most efficient material is probably not the nicest for the planet but will give us the best cost output. So somewhere on the spectrum I need to understand where you are sitting.”
We decided that we were tending more towards the ‘ecological' materials but probably not going to the extreme.
After our meeting (which was probably closer to 2 hours rather than the 30-minute podcast), Chris and John went to look at the plot.
Now they have all the information they need to create some sketches (either hand-drawn or in SketchUp).