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Under our roof

Under our roof

04.06.19

The varying profile and outline of the roofs in Living Architecture houses

Under our roof

In the visual shorthand of a child’s drawing, houses almost inevitably have pitched roofs. The symbol of the pitched roof is often employed as an economic way to denote the quintessential image of home – take the Living Architecture logo for example.

All of our houses – bar one significant exception – play with the iconography of the pitched roof in different ways, revealing outlines both familiar and strange. Balancing Barn is an ultra-simple house shape extruded to extreme lengths. If the shape is familiar, very little else is. Clad in mirror-polished stainless steel shingles and with no visible gutters, the roof is figurative but also highly abstract.

A few miles away on the Suffolk coast, Dune House’s roof references the local roof shape vernacular, but here it is twisted to form interlocking habitable rooms, with an integral sheltered terrace. This use of the roof spaces as bedrooms reflects the contemporary trend for creating usable living areas in what were spaces primarily for storage and water tanks. Modern materials can now regulate the temperature in roof spaces, avoiding the extremes of old.

Unsurprisingly given its name, the Long House does something similar. But here the roof is more articulated with its structure being expressed in reference to he timber framed barns or medieval houses of the area. Both Shingle House in Dungeness and Life House in Wales, use the archetypal house shape as a way to play with images of home.

In both cases, this is exaggerated by the colours – jet black in the Shingle House and a combination of black and off-white bricks in the case of Life House – each resulting in houses less obviously homely and more contemporary. The silhouette of Shingle House serves another role, that of memory, referring to the house and fish smokery that formerly occupied the site.

A House for Essex uses the pitched roof rhetorically, to summon up a rich variety of references and connotations. The roofs – four of them in all, climbing up in scale like a Norwegian stave church - are tall and steeply pitched recalling the outline of gothic churches and wayside chapels. Most obviously the roofs are gold, clad in a brass alloy that glints in the sunshine and relates the house to more exotic reference points such as Tibetan shrines and religious icons.

There are reasons for roofs being pitched, structural integrity for one, but ultimately for shedding the rain and snow. In Devon, Secular Retreat’s roof defies this, much as the early Modernist architects had when introducing the flat roof (and all its inherent problems) into their designs.

With this house, there are no obvious references to traditional or vernacular housing of the surrounding area. This is an uncompromisingly modern experience, challenging guests to adjust their prejudices of what a house is like. Appropriately then, its roof conjures up other images: a wing perhaps, the giant slabs of stone from stone circles, or even military fortifications and shelters.

Technically audacious and sculpturally striking, the roof of Secular Retreat offers a very different image of shelter. Like all our houses though, it is a provocation, exploring how contemporary architecture can redefine our image of home.

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