Don’t Move, Improve: are these some of London’s best residential extensions?

Don’t Move, Improve: are these some of London’s best residential extensions?

We celebrate the humble art of house design and architectural improvement in the British capital and reveal the 25-strong shortlist of Don’t Move, Improve London-wide competition for 2020

The humble residential commission has been the subject of experimentation for architects for centuries; and nowhere is this more true than in London, where constraints such as high building density, high land and property values and a population of ever-changing appetites make designing for the British capital a challenge on a level all of on its own. As a result, commissions for house extensions, alterations and redesigns are often the bread-and-butter of many London architecture practices. 

This is exactly what the citywide competition Don’t Move, Improve is all about. Set up ten years ago and ran by the New London Architecture (aka NLA – an independent forum about architecture and construction in the capital), this is a much-awaited showcase of ingenuity when it comes to bespoke design and innovative, everyday, residential architecture. 

Apartment Block by Coffey Architects. Photography: Tim Soar

Excitingly, this shortlist for the best house improvement projects of the past year has just been announced, naming 25 nominated schemes, which range from rear, side and loft extensions to designs where an internal rearrangement and a cleverly placed partition go a long way – proof that you don’t always need to change everything (or indeed, move) in order to boost quality of life on the home front. Meanwhile, shortlisted architects span young and established offices, such as Threefold Architects, Coffey Architects, HÛT, DROO Architects and Vine Architecture Studio. 

There are highlights aplenty. The list features a chic and immaculately detailed apartment refresh by Coffey Architects in the heart of Clerkenwell; a Scandinavian-inspired rear extension by young architect Oliver Leech in South London; a rather eccentric and beautiful neo-Georgian townhouse redesign by Gundry and Ducker in Islington; and a generous new living space in Lambeth by Proctor and Shaw. There are some masterful moves (Threefold’s adding of an extra level to Cloak House, made it almost unrecognisable) and great use of material throughout – wood is a constant protagonist, while terrazzo seems to be having a moment too.

Mile End Road by Vine Architecture Studio. Photography: Nicholas Worley

‘Every year the competition is full of fantastic efforts to push the limits of design,’ says Tamsie Thompson, London Festival of Architecture director and one of the judges. ‘Whether on a tiny triangular plot in the inner city, or out in the suburbs, the entries show the contribution that good design makes to our capital. We’ve seen amazing diversity of approaches to colour, light and materiality – with some of the bolder designs totally reimagining the arrangement of the standard home. Clearly, fresh ideas are still out there.’

As well as an overall winner, winning designs will also be announced on a further six categories: Urban Oasis of the Year, the Compact Design of the Year, Best Project under £75k, the Environmental Leadership Prize, Most Unique Character Award, and the prize for Materiality and Craftsmanship. All will be revealed during a dedicated ceremony on Tuesday 11 February. §

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