The Long House plays with a traditional building type and materials to give holiday guests a taste of modern architecture. Report: Jonathan Hendry. Photos: Charles Hosea.
The Long House is Hopkins Architects’ first commission for a house since Michael and Patty Hopkins built their own in 1976. The house sits on the top of a hill within the beautiful rolling North Norfolk landscape in a place called Cockthorpe, a small hamlet with a church, several houses and a farmyard. The natural slope of the topography towards the sea gives the hamlet a north/south orientation.
The buildings in this part of the world are predominantly made from flint, collected from the land then set within a wall of mortar, punctured with small openings. Corners are constructed in brick, giving the buildings structural stability; roofs are terracotta with large eaves. These ingredients give the vernacular a rich cottage aesthetic rooted to North Norfolk.
The long, linear form of the Hopkins house gives the building a strong presence within this exposed landscape. The truly sustainable approach, of sourcing materials locally from the land, has been embraced. The base of the building is made using flint pebbles reclaimed from its landscape. They are floating in a wall of mortar giving the facades a strong materiality. The positions of the windows and entrance give a clue to the building’s symmetrical plan. The top of the flint facade and the window and door reveals are edged in highly polished concrete with very subtle chamfers contrasting with the natural flints. The gables are constructed in light grey stained larch, with horizontal planks set between vertical timber columns. The facade of the modern farm shed adjacent to the house is made from horizontally ribbed metal sheet with exposed steel portals between panels. Regardless of whether Hopkins was conscious of making this analogy with its neighbour, the buildings talk to each other. The combination of heavy stone walls and a separately articulated timber upper storey also recalls Hopkins refectory at Norwich Cathedral (2004), 30 miles south.
As you open the front door your eyes are drawn to the vast landscape beyond the sliding glass doors within the rear facade. The scale of the entrance space is generous, like a barn or medieval hall. To my mind there remains a level of ambiguity about the purpose of such a large central space; I wasn’t sure where to hang my coat or place my shoes. The exposed location of the house means that it is susceptible to high winds and bad weather, yet the threshold between the large entrance space and the outside, created by a tall timber door with no lobby space, was a surprise.
Looking up within the entrance space, your eyes are drawn to the exposed timber roof trusses, tied using metal wire and supported by metal plates cut into the wood. Roof purlins are exposed and the soffit above is lined with ash-veneered panels. The celebration of steel and timber construction in a roof, familiar from Hopkins’ larger buildings such as Haberdashers’ Hall in London, the David Mellor cutlery factory in Derbyshire and the Queen’s Building at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, is successfully translated to the domestic scale here. Within this space, connecting the ground floor with the first floor is a spiral timber staircase enclosed in ash laths. In contrast to the mass of the flint facade it appears very delicate, more reminiscent of traditional Japanese architecture than the European longhouse typology, where a staircase would rise between two mass walls.
The refined symmetry of the plan gives a real feeling of simplicity resulting in a series of interconnecting spaces that is true to the type, however. At both ends of the house there is an intimate garden ‘room’ enclosed along the northern and eastern/western boundaries by a continuation of the front flint facade, folding to form a threshold between the public world and the sheltered intimacy of domesticity. The scale of the garden rooms also makes an appropriate adjustment between the vast landscape and the house.
Apart from the large window in the rear facade of the entrance space, at ground floor level the house offers very few moments where you feel connected to this beautiful terrain – a rural house’s main asset. The first floor has a very different spatial quality; a timber-framed ribbon window gives an uninterrupted view down towards the North Sea at the front and the gently rising Norfolk landscape to the rear. Each of the four bedrooms takes advantage of this remarkable outlook. The organisational strategy of locating the living spaces on the ground floor with limited openings and bedrooms on the first floor with vast openings prompts the question of whether the house is upside down.
Looking across the first-floor gallery towards the rear as the sun sets, the house begins to feel barn-like. An atmospheric quality triggered by the honesty of the exposed timber roof, first-floor frame and lime render – used internally on the flint walls and illuminated by warm white lights – gives the building an intimate spatial quality. The timber balustrade around the central gallery is beautifully crafted, although the high-lacquered finish given to all the timber detracts from the inherent beauty that wood can provide. Likewise, the precision of the grey ceramic floor tiles used to tie the ground floor rooms together reminded me of the architect’s more commercial work.
The Long House was commissioned by Living Architecture, a ‘social enterprise’ established by writer Alain de Botton ‘to revolutionise both architecture and UK holiday rentals’. Hopkins’ response to the challenge will be welcomed by people whose first experience of high-quality contemporary architecture is a stay in the Long House.
Jonathan Hendry is the principal of Lincolnshire-based Jonathan Hendry Architects, and was Young Architect of the Year in 2011.
Formed in 1976 by Michael and Patty Hopkins (right), the practice has offices in London and Dubai. Major projects include the 2012 Olympic velodrome, Evelina Children’s Hospital, Portcullis House and the Mound Stand at Lord’s cricket ground in London, Kroon Hall at Yale University, and the Schlumberger Research Centre, Cambridge.
Architect: Hopkins Architects; design team: Michael Hopkins, Patty Hopkins, Stephen Jones, Tim Coleridge, Hayley Hammond, Andrew Barnett, Andreas Wenzel, James Shelton; main contractor: O Seaman & Son; structural engineer: Jane Wernick Associates; services engineer: ZEF; cost consultant: Boyden Group; landscape: The Landscape Partnership; CDM co-ordinator: Anglia Surveys; clerk of works: Techs Project Management; client: Living Architecture.
Selected suppliers and subcontractors
Flintwork: WS Lusher & Son; external timber weatherboarding, front door and gates: Coulson Building Group; precast concrete cills, quoins and copings: Cambridge Architectural Precast; timber roof structure and windows: Constructional Timber; Rheinzinc roof, steel gutter, downpipes and sedum roof: CEL Group; awnings: Markilux; internal joinery, doors, staircase and balustrade: Cheesman Joinery; ironmongery: Allgood D-Line; lime render and plasterboard ceilings: AR Mitchell & Sons; shower trays and enclosures: Bette; sanitary ware: Catalano, Crosswater, Gerberit, Franke; roller blinds: Nantmor Blinds; aluminium sliding doors: Fineline; glazing: Stowmarket Glass; kitchen and bedroom furniture: Kestrel Furniture; kitchen appliances: Miele.
First published in AT227, April 2012