Designing a Para 55 project – from inception to submission!
Ecotecture were approached in mid-2015 for a new house on an outstanding site in West Sussex. Previous to our involvement an initial pre-application feedback form Mid Sussex District Council (MSDC) had indicated the site would be viewed favourable in the light of the Council's lack of a five-year housing supply and the onus through the National Planning Policy framework (NPPF) to provide sustainable sites.
Our initial designs centred on a vertically inspired design, drawing on the architecture of nearby listed windmills, Jack and Jill. This scheme was put forward to MSDC for further pre-application discussion at which point the initial positive pre-application response was revoked and we were told that only a ‘Para 55' design would be considered acceptable. Para 55 allows permission to be granted when a building is considered outstanding and/or innovative in design.
Ecotecture faced this challenge with alacrity, after all it is every architects dream to design innovative and outstanding architecture! We set about developing numerous concepts for initial negotiation, indeed the development of the subsequent schemes was a rapid process of broad conceptual design and engagement in collaborative working with the MSDC Design Panel. This meant the design was developed knowing that the concept was appropriate for the level of design excellence demanded.
Presentation is a key part of a Para 55 and professional model makers were employed and CGI images used to enable the final scheme to be presented in such detail that the outstanding architecture was clearly demonstrated. Our final scheme was impeccably developed and presented in order to ensure a consent, once submitted.
To submit a Para 55 you need to be a confident strong designer. Our ecological credentials also played an important part of the consent, which was granted not only on the outstanding architectural design, but also on the innovative criteria of Para 55 proposed in our sustainability statement to be the first building to meet the latest European standards NZEB (Nearly Zero Energy Buildings) containing a bank of PV's and Tesla batteries for storage to ensure energy use availability outside daylight hours. In conjunction with heat pump technology the building will be a truly sustainable masterpiece once constructed.
The Design Concept
The scheme developed as a low land hugging design, using the same fragmented language form of the original design, but drawing it out further to relate to the landscape and rock formation of the Weald. A landscape architect was used closely in the design development, not only to provide a visual impact assessment but also to contribute to the development of the concept. Key ideas emerged through this process. We considered tectonic forms which interact to form a tripartite structure, or a singular form which is pressed over the landscape with the smooth contours of the landscape below mimicked within its roof form.
The arrangement of tectonic forms was replicated in the building, layers of wall sand roof arranged so to be as forms sliding over one another to create sequences of spaces, which draw the user through the building and into a tectonic which has been derived in response to the panoramic vista beyond.
Throughout our design process we have paid very close attention to the building physics of our given scheme. The need to remain for the most part single storey, required Ecotecture to make decisions defining a hierarchy of importance for spaces, looking at how the views affected the internal spaces, and benefit certain rooms directly whilst others gain views indirectly. With splitting the levels of the floor plan to arrange the sleeping accommodation to the north side of the site, we allowed for the most utilised spaces within the building to benefit from views across the lower rooms. The master en-suite lies between these two concepts showing a mixture of pragmatism and design flair.
Delivering a sustainability strategy was inherent in the design of the building, one informing the other, there are specific defining characteristics to design possibilities within the development of low energy, or nearly zero energy, buildings. The need to expand the overall building footprint to allow the majority of the accommodation to be arranged in effect on a single storey increased the form factor ratio as a result of a larger surface area to the volume of the building envelope. This was taken into account throughout the design development and can be seen to be resolved within the Sustainability Statement.
Whilst the broad concepts of the spatial arrangement of accommodation had been determined and optimised through the production of our various concept proposals, the specifics of the design are derived from a language of architecture we have developed to suit the site topography and the connection between the interior open plan spaces and the panoramic views of the Downs.
It is notable that the pattern of development of the structures surrounding the site could be viewed as chaotic when looked at in a two-dimensional block plan form. However, by overlaying the contours showing height data onto the block data in fact every part of the plan form was carefully positioned in response to the variable and natural landscape. Each structure used its associated and immediate topography to hunker down into its environment. These principles formed the primary design generators.
Through negotiations with MSDC we developed the idea of the path allowing the user to be brought into the site further to the west routing the new access between the trees and intentionally seeking the highest point of land within the site. Once at the highest point, a snapshot is formed allowing the visitor a taste of the views available beyond the dwelling, the path then curves to follow the peninsular of land. This rerouting of the user allows an individual to arrive in the informal courtyard formed by the dwelling and the garage, only becoming aware of the presence of the garage upon arrival within the space. This courtyard arrangement is designed to allow a larger vehicle such as a refuse truck to turn, without the road layout dominating the overall landscaping design. The path then returned to the original concept, travelling east/west and bisects the built form as originally intended. These revisions were primarily designed to reduce the impact / potential loss of existing trees within the site.
Once the form was subdivided, further axis’ were utilised to sculpt the built form each being brought in from variably orientated structures nearby the site. The micro cutting planes have allowed the formation of the interior accommodation within zones made available by the primary cutting planes. This meant the spaces were seen as volumes to emerge from the landscape in three dimensional forms a geological process echoing that of nature, similar to rock forms breaking up through the landscape as a process of erosion of the landscape. This is further referenced in the faceting building forms, which blend roofscapes with walls knitting the design down into the landscape. The materials selected are designed to be robust and low maintenance, but also represent the solidity referred to within the design. This theme is expanded upon via the faceted soffits to the overhanging building elements. In effect the vertical surfaces of wall are exposed as a subtractive process cutting away geological forms revealing a contemporary design with an elegant mix of materials.