Viewpoint Competition

11th September 2015

“...We were looking for a building that did something transformative; that drew your attention to the landscape by intelligently focusing the viewer’s attention on what is around them, rather than just the building itself.

Strangely, for a competition about views, the winning entry, a house hunkered into the ground in an urban London street, has no real view at all.  But with what limited aspect it could draw out of the site, it turned what could have been a cold and austere outlook for the home into something contemplative and elemental, where light strikes its brick walls to illuminate everything around it.  There may have been far better views to be enjoyed from other contenders, but for the way this project sublimated both its context and itself, it was Viewpoint’s clear winner.”

Jan-Calos Kucharek, senior editor, RIBA Journal; judging panel chairman

Judges: Will Alsop, Hélène Binet, Jonas Lencer

“Any architect can make the most of a stunning outlook. But it takes a particularly nuanced touch to make a special view out of an ordinary, or sometimes, as the eventual winner proved, a downright unpromising situation.
It was this ability to create a view that transcends the limits of its context that particularly appealed to the judges in the inaugural Viewpoint Origin Global competition.
The clear winner was Spiral House... Judges appreciated the elegant and nuanced design of this single storey house, built on a tight site with minimal exterior space. Shielded by an enigmatic and admirably Barraganesque wall, this is flanked by wide stairs leading down to a small courtyard to the entrance. The panel appreciated how this modest space has been enriched by the architectural treatment, enjoying the views both down the stairs to the blank wall and back up towards the street.” (RIBA Journal, September 2015)
“Architect Jack Woolley saw self build potential in a site that had once been the garden of a Victorian terrace but which had been abandoned and overrun with Japanese knotweed for 15 years after planning applications failed.
The result is Spiral House, an 88 sq.m. single-storey home named for its boundary wall, which weaves around the site to form the habitable spaces.
The two bedroom house was designed around three key viewpoints. The first was the street view. To preserve the long view of treetops, shrubbery and sky over the neighbouring back gardens, the house was partially sunken so it rises only 450mm above the pavement boundary wall. Looking back from the bottom of the steps, the view captures three houses in the terrace opposite.
Bird’s eye views were another consideration. Woolley planted the roof of the house to give it a horticultural aspect, and used the brick parapet to make the spiral clearly visible from above. Views out were also crucial, requiring careful juggling to take account of overlooking. The transition between interior and exterior is blurred by the use of a 6.5m folding glazed wall along the living space.
The other key long view out was achieved with an 11m roof light along the northern edge of the building, which gives an uninterrupted high view while avoiding overlooking. There is also a glimpse of the ever present brick boundary wall.
‘I didn’t want to feel excessively enclosed. So I tried to get long views by using a roof light to give an elevated view of rooftops and treetops. It does make the space feel light, rather than oppressive,’ Woolley says.
Much of the success of the house is down to the detailing of the brick wall itself. Woolley specified Roman style bricks made by Belgian manufacturer Vande Moortel, used with thin, 4-5mm mortar joints. Particular attention was paid to the detailing where the wall divides to form a flower bed alongside the steps, and to the treatment of the steps, where brick nosing is used to link them back to the walls.
Overall, Woolley aimed for as simple a palette as possible to emphasise the texture of the wall, choosing Roman bricks to tie in with the red brick of the neighbours while signalling through their shape that it is a new, if enigmatic, intervention.” (RIBA Journal, September 2015)