WoodBlock House is the new East London studio, home and office for UK artist Richard Woods and his family. It demonstrates a genuine collaboration between architect and client, a chance for experimentation that resulted in domestic joy and a Spartan pleasure in every aspect of the finished product. It is a modest manifesto for engineered timber, mixed-use, economy and colour.
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) described it as: “A joyful, sensual house … the product of a genuine collaboration between inventive architects and their imaginative artist clients. The building is almost totally made of timber, including its floors, walls and ceilings. This gives it an exceptional visceral quality; everywhere one can smell the wood and everything has a tactile handmade quality.”
The brief was to create a studio, home and office for Woods and his family, with a large printing workshop (ground floor) a specific requirement.
Everything correlates with the lines of adjacent properties, but the building is ‘pulled away’ slightly from one of the party walls to allow commercial access and provide fire separation. Fun, playfulness and imagination are evident everywhere in this small project.
Published with kind permission of timber+DESIGN magazine.
This project was a deliberate experiment in economic all-timber construction and sustaining a small local business in London. Nestled snugly between its neighbouring materials of brick and concrete, WoodBlock House adds new tactile and visual expression to the fabric of the city.
European-sourced CLT is the main structural timber, and the architect says it is the only ‘carbon positive’ method for long span superstructures—more carbon dioxide is absorbed through the lifetime of the tree growth than expended through manufacture, delivery and installation.
dRMM says further benefits in using the system include: increased quality through off-site manufacture, shorter project time, elimination of ‘wet trades’, and robustness.
The home section of the building faces south and sits on top of a north-facing studio. They are formed as two superimposed timber boxes, the former clad in horizontal painted plywood, the latter in vertical unpainted larch boards.
The timber house above is heated mainly through passive and active thermal solar gain and a single stove. The studio space is kept simple to allow for alternative commercial uses.
Using CLT rather than conventional construction (concrete, brick, steel) enables the building to sequester a considerable amount of CO2, offsetting many years production of CO2 from energy use in the building.
The artist client’s working process requires a large-scale printing workshop where work can be manufactured with adequate space for him and his studio employees. The building had to be designed with the inclusion of an open yard at ground level, to ensure ventilation and ease of access.
Designs evolved from extensive conversations with the client, whose own work traverses the boundaries between art, architecture and furniture design in the interplay between the functional and the ornamental.
The result was a simple, large workshop and printing studio space on the ground floor, with separate living accommodation and a small rooftop library on the third floor – all characterised by the qualities of timber, good spaces and daylight.
The massing and CLT panel structural system are expressed through the articulation of the facade in relief and choice of cladding. The building is positioned slightly away from its neighbour’s flank wall to include the careful brickwork in its composition.
The home section of the building is south facing and sits on top of the north-facing studio. The former is horizontally-clad painted plywood using a printing technique for which the artist-client is internationally renowned. By contrast, the studio is clad in unpainted larch.
Panels painted white, yellow and green that run horizontally along patches of the front and rear facades reappear inside the house as treads for the main staircase. The wider interior colour palette features a rainbow of colours ranging from pale pink and white to bold reds, blues and greens.
Functions inside the three-storey building are divided up by storey. The large-scale printing workshop occupies the entire ground floor, while the level above accommodates living spaces and the second storey contains four bedrooms for the family.
The family living area above the studio opens onto a large balcony, bedrooms and bathroom, with a small library-cum-office in an eyrie at the very top.
A simple, generous fenestration specification has been used throughout: full height, sliding windows to principal living areas, and smaller 'punched hole' windows to secondary living spaces such as bedrooms and circulation. All are laminated timber.
Apart from being environmentally sound, WoodBlock House also has the unique atmosphere of a house built only in timber and glass, with a sensual quality that to be fully appreciated has to be seen, touched and smelt.