Flint House – A flint and chalk house and annex
Flint House, at Waddesdon in Buckinghamshire, designed and realised by Skene Catling de la Peña, architects. This mineral and poetic work inspired by the geology of the site is, An example of an innovative piece of architecture that suggests a typology for the one-off house that is not an object in the landscape but is of the landscape.
The site is a seam of flint geology surrounded by ploughed fields with the flints sitting on the surface. The project is conceived as two wedges of that geology thrusting up through the flat landscape. Their bases are knapped flint and slowly change in construction and texture until they become chalk walling, dissolving into the sky.
The house forms accommodation for family members, guests and artists. Internally the spaces carefully frame the landscape and provide a rich sequence of experiences, including a small rivulet of water that that cuts a grotto through a corner of the main house. Magic.
The innovation and beauty of the scheme is particularly evident in the detail of the cladding. It consists of a varying use of flint that starts at its base as knapped flint and slowly changes in construction and texture until it becomes chalk walling at the highest point. This gives both a feeling of varying geological strata with the building dissolving as it reaches to the sky. The architects worked with a number of specialist and skilled craftsmen to achieve the end result. The development is part of a wider artistic project that has involved engagement with artists, photographers and musicians.
Internally the spaces carefully frame the landscape and provide a rich sequence of spaces, which includes a small rivulet of water that snakes through part of the main house. Given the nature of the client and the brief, one might suggest that the project was able to push boundaries that many architects and clients would not be able to. But conversely, patronage has often been crucial in allowing the development of the arts and architecture.
The building is an example of an innovative piece of architecture that suggests a typology for the one-off house that is not an object in the landscape but is of the landscape; yet is not so deferential to nature, that it isn’t challenging, dramatic, and most of all poetic. Flint House stood out as a significant project from the initial submissions. The photographs of the building had a painterly, almost ethereal quality. Expectations were therefore high when we visited the building. Remarkably that poetic quality was evident in the flesh, and to it was added a layer of rich detail in how the strata of flint and chalk grew out of the ground and rose to fade into the sky. This is a beautiful addition to a beautiful landscape.
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has revealed Flint House in Buckinghamshire as the winner of the coveted 2015 RIBA House of the Year award. The annual award was created in 2001 to celebrate excellence in housing design.
“The shortlist for the RIBA’s House of the Year represents a remarkable diversity of architectural skills and outcomes. I am delighted that Skene Catling De La Pena’s Flint House for Lord Rothschild has won this year’s prize. Although superbly original and unique, it continues a fine tradition of RIBA award-winning houses that provide exemplars for others, including architects, clients and developers.” – Jane Duncan / RIBA Awards
Skene Catling de la Peña:
Flint is a quartz related to obsidian, and is found only in the chalk seam that extends from the south coast to Norfolk. Flint is an ancient material related to jasper, obsidian and onyx; a hard, cryptocrystalline form of quartz found in one geological seam in the UK, and in abundance on the surface of the ploughed fields surrounding the site. The architecture was generated from this Neolithic material, the geology and the immediate ecosystem.
The site is a curious linear island isolated within the context of a large estate. It is a strange, still place; an anomoly of wilderness within its highly cultivated agricultural context.
- Stone age: Located on a seam of chalk that extends from the White Cliffs of Dover through to Norfolk on the east coast of Britain, the building is treated as landscape or geological extrusion. Flint is an ancient material related to jasper, obsidian and onyx; a hard, cryptocrystalline form of quartz found only in chalk, and in abundance on the surface of the ploughed fields surrounding the site.
- The Form: The building has a rawness that echoes the landscape, jutting from the ground like a collision of tectonic plates, a man-made mountain that follows the profile of the existing trees. The landscape and architecture are inextricably linked, and the form is sculpted using layers of natural materials found there: flint and chalk with inclusions of concrete, glass and metal. The architecture becomes an optical device, at once a platform, frame and lens for viewing the surrounding landscape and context.
- Geological Extrusion: There is a material transformation over the building where at its base it appears to be almost ripped raw from the ground before it undergoes a ‘civilizing process’ as it progresses into the uppermost ethereal chalk layer where it finally dissolves into the sky. It embodies the idea of the geological extrusion, infinite age and of revealing something already there. This was the fundamental generator for the design, and carries through from the form itself into the materiality and final detail. The site is inextricably bound to the building at all levels.
Flint is a mixture of crystalline silica (quartz) and hydrated silica (opal). Flints can vary in shape, size and colour. Three main types are used in construction: quarried (or virgin) flints, field flints and cobbles, which have been rounded by the action of water. The exact origins of flint, though much debated, are still unclear. The most generally accepted view is that it derives from the remains of minute silica-based sea organisms that used to live in the ancient shallow seas.
Geology and history:
In the UK, flint can be found in many places across Southern England, principally along the course of a large horseshoe running between Lincolnshire and Oxfordshire and taking in the counties of Norfolk Suffolk, Essex, Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire on the way. There are also isolated pockets in Dorset, Surrey and Hertfordshire. Found as pebbles and nodules in the Middle and Upper Chalk layers this beautiful stone has always been used in construction.
Project name: Flint House
Location: Waddesdon, Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom
- Type By Characteristic: Green & Sustainable House, Holiday House
- Type By Site: Countryside / Suburb House
- Type By Size: Big House – (451 sqm – 650 sqm)
- Type By Materials: Stone House
Project Area: 580 sqm
Completion Year: 2015
Client / Owner / Developer: Lord Jacob Rothschild
Client Advisor: Colin Amery
Architects: Skene Catling de la Peña – 3/71 Elm Park Gardens, London SW10 9QE, United Kingdom
Collaborators & Consultants: Marc Frohn
Project Architects: Charlotte Skene Catling, Jaime de la Peña, Theodora Bowering, Amaia Orrico, Tomoaki Todome, Samuel Chisholm, Tom Greenall, Jordan Hodgson, Daniel Peacock
- Structural Engineers: eHRW Engineers Haskins Robinson Waters, Adam Redgrove, Stephen Haskins
- Mechanical + Electrical Engineer: sMax Fordham Associates: Kai Salman-Lord
- Civil Engineers: Martin Jones
- Landscape & Garden Designers: Mary Keen, Pip Morrison
- Interior Designer: David Mlinaric
- Quantity Surveyors: Nick Tarrier, Ed Smith, Hui Meng
- Flint Consultant: Flintman Company – David Smith
- Lighting Consultants: Spellman Knowlton Lighting Design: Claire Spellman, Christopher Knowlton
- Ecology Consultant: Bernwood Environmental Conservation Services: Chris Damant