Dark brick façades hunker down against the street, growing ever finer, ever more delicate as they rise up, until they hit the sky under stucco and carpentered gables. One half expects to see Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens and the Brontë sisters peeking out from behindthe curtains. Forest Hill, far out in the periphery, somewhere in south-east London, features splendid Victorian brick houses.

Product details

Project Forest Mews
Architect Robert & Jessica Barker
Client Private
Products used Terca Marziale
 

Backyard of Forest Mews covered with Terca Marziale tiles

Backyard of Forest Mews, United Kingdom © Robert Barker

Backyard of Forest Mews covered with Terca Marziale tiles

Backyard Forest Mews, United Kingdom © Robert Barker

Backyard of Forest Mews covered with Terca Marziale tiles

Backyard of Forest Mews, United Kingdom © Robert Barker

Backyard of Forest Mews covered with Terca Marziale tiles

Backyard of Forest Mews, United Kingdom © Tim Crocker

The location

But behind the obvious, on the corner of Waldram Park and Sunderland Road, appears a little village within the city, an idyllic residential complex of red brick and lots of green. “We searched for the right plot for us for two years”, recall Robert and Jessica Barker. “And one day, we came across this old, run-down property behind the Victorian buildings, with a barn, a shack and a cramped, dilapidated house on it.” The architect couple’s strong vision succeeded in dispelling any initial doubts. They seized the opportunity, razed the old buildings and replaced them with three single-family dwellings strung up along the property line.

Finding the right one

“We had no doubts whatsoever about the construction,” the architects say.
 
"In view of the area alone, it simply had to be brick. But we did spend a long time searching for the perfect product."
This search involved the Barkers sitting in their old flat, surrounded by sample bricks and countless material samples ranging from shimmering yellow to dark, ochre-coloured clinker, until finally, the right one was found. They opted for a light, sandcoloured brick whose many hues and heterogeneous surfaces reference the character of the surrounding housing developments dating back to the reign of Queen Victoria.

Strict geometry meets nature

The first impression is of many columns and pillars forming a kind of bar code that surrounds a triangular inner courtyard containing polygonal concrete slabs and criss crossing strips of grass. The unusual geometry makes sense: for one, the high share of green ensures that the earth stores water during strong rainfalls and conveys it to subterranean cisterns, thus keeping the houses dry despite their topographical location under the street level. For another, the large expanses of grass between the slim façades of brick make the interior spaces light and airy, despite the rear courtyard location and the light coming in from only one side.

Breathing walls

All three houses have two storeys and a narrow, long footprint. Each of the three units – one of them inhabited by the architects, the others rented out to a couple and a family – has its own outdoor space in the form of a small, intimate atrium. The main façade is covered in expanded metal mesh, on which the first plants are already climbing. In a few years, the plan goes, the brick components will be encased in green. When that happens, Forest Mews will have retreated even further behind its veil of fairy tale and modernity.

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