A host of the finest houses

Niki May Young
Monday 16 Feb 2009

Announcing the WAN House of the Year Award 2008 shortlist...

A prestigious panel of judges met on Thursday 10 February to choose, from a long list of 30 designs, the six projects that will compete to win the title of WAN House of the Year 2008. The standard for 2008 was so high as to require an extension of the original target of 25 designs for the long list. Due to unforeseen circumstances Vicky Richardson of Blueprint and Ken Yeang were unable to attend leaving Richard Coleman, Eugene Asse, Will Alsop and Paul Monaghan to drive forward the judging at the prestigious One Alfred Place in Bloomsbury, London.

WAN Chairman Richard Coleman, who also chaired the jury, said: “All the judges found the task uplifting since so many contributions were of a high standard. There was also fluency in making a series of staged selections throughout the day, based on content, intent, presentation and the manifestation of architectural delight. All were abundant in the six finalists.”

The finalists are, in alphabetical order and with judges’ commentary:

Office MapBoukyo, Sappro, Japan : Nakayama Architects

This submission is notable for its endless images of sublime interiors and the way light dapples and softens an otherwise rational and rectilinear architecture. The judges were, of course, impressed with the site and its extraordinary views over the city of Sapporo, but were particularly complementary about the way the views were either framed or exploited in panorama. Despite the imperative of opening the house up to these views, the interiors are intimate and rich in both form and materials with impeccable detailing. The central atrium separates private and public functions while varying the quality of light and providing an expansive characteristic to the interiors and thus balancing that which is outside. There is an exploitation of level change at every turn, both requiring and enabling the clients to remain in good health! If there was a disappointment it was the lack of images of the exterior, leaving the judges with the view that, though brave in its use of weathering steel, the house displayed an unnecessarily hard shell.

Office MapThe Dairy House, Somerset, United Kingdom : Skene Catlin de la Pena

The judges were fully seduced by the innovative envelope and the quality of light provided within. A solution which appeared effortless, was in fact a very thoughtfully conceived solution born out of the location, its resources and the designer’s sensitivity. The combination of raw timber and refined glass, used as a continuous wall/window was felt to be a masterful handling of a normally predictable condition. Missing in the presentation were plans and sections and without these, a lack of understanding about the function of the house and how the new element relates to the converted original dairy. This omission was more than balanced, however, by the fabric of the piece.

Office MapEl Ray House, Dungeness, United Kingdom : Simon Conder Associates

A harsh featureless coastal landscape, a power station, a lighthouse and a liberal scatter of ad hoc ‘shacks’ would be challenge for any designer. The judges felt that El Ray House provided a perfect antidote to the prosaic environment of the Dungeness coast. It was as though a piece of civilization had accidentally found itself at a most unlikely place. An impeccable standard of sustainability, clear planning, a total homogeneity of materials, apparently effortless details and an economical cost, impressed the judges to the extent that they all expressed a wish to visit it immediately! While the photography was of the highest level, this building itself provides a seductive subject with its soft curves and dynamic counter curves. Leaving aside the qwerky idea of retaining the original railway carriage as an internal space, the richness of light, of spacial quality and of internal/external vistas abounds in this house. It acts as a sanctuary in a place which appears both enchanting and challenging. Its secure northern ‘shell’ and open gesture towards the sea fully captures this duality.

Office MapGlenburn House, Melbourne, Australia : Sean Godsell Architects

While it is often the case that a supreme site can make a house design appear better than it is, the judges felt that, in this case, the architect had related the building in full harmony with the landscape. Both the elongated form and the use of oxidized steel as a surface, make this house a near perfect addition to the rolling countryside. Impressive sustainable credentials; fluent resolution of the rain-screen exterior details; and a containment of external activity within protected decks, all contribute to fully redeeming this imposition of man onto nature. The façade, with its earthy oxidized striated pattern, is the fact, made of industrial floor grating. This material unifies the facades while shading it in high temperatures. Judges wondered if, it also became musical in high winds! The plan is linear and entire logic, from public to private, interspersed with two decks within the overall volume. This provides a balance between personal external space and expansive landscape. Some might feel caged by such a building, but it is at once an architecture of protection from what can be a harsh environment and a vail of privacy in an exposed landscape. The judges were impressed.

Office MapIJburg House, Amsterdam, The Netherlands : Marc Koehler Architects

All the judges were immediately attracted to this small house design. The simplicity of the two forms and their delicate interrelationship give rise to a set of compositional proportions which are both visually pleasing but also legible, in terms of interpreting the meaning and hierarchy of the inner spaces. The potentially harsh contrast between the heavy brick and the light glassed areas is transformed by the rich texture of the brickwork. Though with climbing plants in mind, the architect has produced an extraordinary wall surface which metamorphosises elegantly from a plain surface to a lightly articulated field of brick-ends forming verticals, horizontals and diagonals and which effectively culminate in a dematerialised corner. The plan and section fully complement the outer form. This is a distinctive house born of simple clear ideas.

Office MapIndustrial Designer House, Tokyo, Japan : Koji Tsutsui Architect & Associates

The judges were sure they were seeing the work of a skilful architect manipulating both surface and composition, and spatial dynamic with a play of light. The very specific brief for both living and the display of objects, for a designer client has resulted in a series of interrelated spaces where internal vistas are enhanced by a sensitive play of natural light. The judges felt that maximum interest had been drawn out of a very specific brief on a small site, with a highly efficient use of space. Their one concern was a lack of generosity in the kitchen and visitors bedroom. A choice made they guessed, in order to be generous with the main spaces. The high levels of detail and quality of finish was exemplary.

The winner of the WAN House of the Year Award 2008 will be announced in News Review on Tuesday 24 February.

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