Architecture is always site-specific, even when it produces clearly recognizable signs. One emblematic case is this country villa in Oxfordshire, between London and Oxford, 600 m2 of internal floorspace, 10,000 m2 of outdoor space, resulting from demolition and reconstruction of an Edwardian house surrounded by meadows, woods and cottages.
The Bluff – as it is called – is first of all a house that listens to the place: in a soft way, like a natural gesture, the landscape embraces the architecture, and the architecture embraces the landscape and human beings. The needs of the Australian clients, with another live spent in Asia as part of a family of diplomats, were formulated in the desire for a reassuring, classical shell that would function as an ideal setting for their eclectic collection of Chinese and Japanese art.
In a belvedere overlooking nature, where the location on a promontory of great natural beauty provided the perfect context. “We wanted to guide the gaze towards the landscape, instead of the architecture” says Carl Pickering (Lazzarini Pickering Architetti ) “while keeping the two scales of intervention closely connected. So we thought about a layout in the garden based on the English tradition – with natural and formal zones, the new custom swimming pool on axis with the beech trees and some original pavilions with a romantic accent, from the pagoda to the treehouse – focusing on a rotunda in which to walk, bordered by hedges and topiary arches.
This guides the gaze towards the entrance pavilion that develops under the green arches and from which a theatrical staircase begins, an intentionally imposing feature, as in the memory of the English home, descending to the dwelling itself.”
The whole house, covered with a grassy cloak, is located at the level below the garden communicating with the street. It is composed of two volumes with different orientation, to seek the finest views of the landscape and to protect against the strong northwesterly winds. The two parts are connected by a central volume with a square plan that functions as a joint and the symbolic heart of the dwelling, containing the parlor-library, an intimate place par excellence, with its walls covered with books and works of art.
The iron and glass structure of the two volumes can be seen from the park behind, with its clear Miesian approach, while the architectural complex seems to rise off the ground with figurative lightness, thanks to the overhang of the extremities.
“The idea” Claudio Lazzarini explains “was to make the nature of the wood extend right up to the house. There are still families of deer that wander freely on the land, and are kept at a safe distance using an ultrasound system. Only the frogs have been forced to move to a new pond, to the left of the swimming pool. We spent 18,000 pounds to do that, but in the end the solution of indoor-outdoor osmosis we proposed was approved in six months, with the compliments of the local authorities.
Very satisfying. Also because this is a zero-impact project. There is no air conditioning in the house, and comfort is provided by the green system of the roofs, the glass screens, the biomass boilers, the radiant floors technically developed with Atelier Ten.” The overhanging frames on the facades of the two buildings represent an important feature of the design: a functional requirement that takes on great formal value.
“The frames support the openings of double panels that form a dynamic natural ventilation system for the rooms, adding a three-dimensional aspect and expanding the perspective of the continuous glass surface, while providing privacy at the same time,” the architects say. The panels, with adjustable orientation, reflect the transformable character of the living spaces, permitting great freedom of behavior and environmental quality: another distinctive value of the project.
A value that in the interiors, all with flooring in pale, reflecting Portland limestone (the same stone used to build London), relies on the counterpoint of mobile partitions in black laminate; ulterior flexible architectural filters that make the spaces communicate or separate, depending on needs, while offering fluid perspectives, enhancing the role of various presences.
The objects and custom furnishings, from the kitchen to the fireplaces, the tables to the lamps, but also the sophisticated colonial antiques and modern vintage items from the collections of the owners, take on new life in relation to selected iconic design pieces.
Everything is combined in a skillful mixture, contributing to the decor based on rigor and precision, achieved through control of the architectural design that is always brilliant in the residential settings entrusted to Lazzarini & Pickering.
photos by Matteo Piazza – text by Antonella Boisi