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London

Building Type:          Private Residential

Architect:                  David Chipperfield Architects

Location:                   Cottage Place, London.

On a recent visit to Chelsea in London I was finally able to view the property that was under construction when I lived with family in the area. Located on the back-of-house-street called Cottage Place, resides a curious new artefact; a private residence designed by David Chipperfield Architects (DCA).

The house occupies the former site of garage space for the adjacent apartments facing Brompton Square. The new house hugs the site lines, maximising all potential available footprint space. The house is in the shadow of the Brompton Oratory. Designed in 1876 by Herbert Gribble, the oratory adopted the “Italian Renaissance” style with nods toward the Roman Baroque and Wren too. 

The house fronts directly onto Cottage Place, making a narrow passage feel narrower with its imposing colonnaded facade, complete with floor to ceiling glazing, enshrined in darkness by the application of permanently drawn curtains. The approach to the facade treatment picks up on the language of the oratory, but while the building attempts to create a dialogue with it’s famous context, it is obvious that DCA’s building is not speaking the same language.

The building is beautifully detailed, with clear and crisp lines at every view. The junction between different materials is handled with care, the spaces and notches all looking as if they were crafted and carved from one piece of building material. Despite these positives, the imposing facade lacks any sense of joy or acknowledgement that this is a home for a family. Instead, the building resembles a fortress, its blank gable end and blackened windows denoting the demeanour of a secretive citadel.

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Cottage Place as viewed from the Brompton Road 

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Cottage Place looking back toward the Brompton Road

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An example of the crisp detailing at the junction of different materials

Given that this was my first encounter with a DCA building, I was left with mixed feelings. The beauty of the building is in the detailing, as the saying goes “God is in the detail”. With the close proximity of the Brompton Oratory, this statement never seemed more appropriate. However, the formidable presence of the redacted architectural language applied to the exterior is rather distressing and leaves a bitter taste. An urgent trip to DCA’s Hepworth in Wakefield or the Turner Contemporary in Margate might just be the penance I require.

When I compare the finished article to the originally intended scheme, it only confounds my disappointment in the end product. The language is far more residential and interesting, with an effort to lessen the impact of the proposed building by creating a more welcoming and home-like appearance. DCA fall short in these key areas of residential scripture, instead they have created an utterly joyless experience.

In the shadow of the oratory where the emphasis is focused on charity and goodwill to all, the new building ignores these aspirations through it’s architectural gestures. I am not suggesting that the building requires complete transparency, creating the opportunity for peeping Tom’s, I am suggesting the building could be more welcoming.

The residents of Chelsea are known as exceedingly wealthy individuals, who through their incomparable lifestyle and wealth are often removed from mainstream society. A building with an emphasis on defensible space and hostile privacy reinforces this notion of societal removal. The building appears turns its back on society, in essence it’s fellow man, almost mocking its famous neighbour.

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A more contemporary feel to the original design

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Clear attempts to break down the facade and create a sense of home

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Greater emphasis on the language on the existing in the original proposal

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A private planted deck garden (existence in built reality unknown) 

words & photos by david rushe 

 

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