Black House

Arrad Street, Liverpool

The client's main aspirations for this 2-storey house on a tight urban site were that the design should maximise the amount of daylight entering the dwelling and that the house should be as secure as possible. We responded to this brief by making the building as anonymous as possible at street level. The house does not reveal its function nor attract attention. Apertures at street level are limited to the bare minimum to increase the privacy for the occupants. A light well is created by setting the building back at first floor level to provide daylight to the interior and reduce the need for openings to the street.

A careful reading of the context enabled us to propose a contemporary solution respectful of the conservation area. An air of randomness in the arrangement of the openings in the surrounding street scene was readily noticeable. We followed this principle in the composition of the elevations and demonstrated how a contemporary design could provide a respectful addition, taking its clues from the existing back-street context.

Another important aspect of the project was the way in which to address the visual prominence of this corner site. As the size of the plot did not allow for the provision of a garden, the building footprint occupies the totality of the site area, less the setback. The eaves height were set at 6.6m as part of our negotiations with the planning department who wanted to preserve the dominant nature of the buildings on adjacent Hope Street. This prompted us to shift the mass of the building towards the corner.

As part of ensuring a superior level of security to the occupants, it was deemed essential that public and private spaces should be clearly defined. This motivated the use of another setback to the front to create a zone of defensible space between the street and the entrance. This also accommodates the refuse storage solution so that the bins are not left on show along the street. The living spaces were positioned on the ground floor with the sleeping quarters located on the first floor.

The choice of brick as a main material for the house was established early-on, both to integrate the house into its setting by borrowing its main material from the surrounding buildings and to provide a robust finish suitable for this well trafficked area. The idea to opt for a black brick developed following our reading of the building and its design as a memorable urban marker and it seemed an appropriate gesture to emphasise the distinct quality of this corner location through materiality.

The roof was designed as a standing-seam zinc roof to reference the aesthetic of light industrial buildings along Arrad Street and as a consideration of the aspect the roof might have when viewed from the windows of taller buildings on Hope Street and the surrounding plots. Rainwater goods are intended to compliment the zinc roof by being formed in the same material. The large zinc hoppers provide a compositional event to each street elevation and establish a visual continuity from facade to roof.

The planning application for this project was approved in early 2010 but unfortunately, due to changing circumstances, our client was unable to proceed with developing the scheme on site and it remains an unbuilt design.

This project was featured in the News section of the Brick Bulletin Autumn 2011 'Black Brick for Conservation Area' and also the Architects' Journal website in August 2011, click on the link below if you would like to read the article.