Fruits of one's labour: Edgley Design's Pear Tree House, Dulwich
A home designed to connect both with its current urban surroundings, as well as the site's historical past, Pear Tree House by Edgley Design is tucked away in a tree-filled backland in leafy South London. Its 100-year-old namesake grows on site from the time when this part of Dulwich used to be a Victorian fruit orchard – this was key to director Jake Edgley's design strategy. 'The tree by its location forced me to split the house in two, but this created an internal courtyard that brings light and air into the centre of the plan, and a natural sculpture which is part of the daily experience of the ground floor,' he says. The house – the architect's own family home – was built around the mature tree, the courtyard flanked by two volumes on the long plot's narrow ends.
The Clerkenwell-based architect was keen to 'turn the house inward', so that it remains private from the surrounding terraced houses. In order to achieve this, he created a fully glazed courtyard, while both side elevations feature no windows to avoid a sense of being overlooked. A cloister-inspired bridge connects the two volumes. The first one features a hall, playroom and four bedrooms. The second houses the main living spaces, which flow out into the garden, as well as a guest bedroom and study.
The building's concrete base and external walls are complemented by a timber-framed top level. There is a clear emphasis on vertical elements 'that echo the experience of looking through trees', explains Edgley. Such features, like the vertical plank arrangement, also help the house blend into its wooded environment. Local larch used in the structure further highlights its links to its locality.
Concrete and timber also make up the dominant material palette inside. The board-marked concrete of the ground floor is left exposed internally, enveloping the common areas in a rougher skin. In contrast, the central, top-lit staircase is ply, leading up to the slightly 'softer' private rooms. Oak veneered ply joinery is in fact used in several places throughout the house, including the kitchen, matched with brass detailing.
The design is heavily informed by its surroundings, but takes its sustainability credentials just as seriously. Concrete, for example, was chosen as it helps regulate internal temperatures; many of the building site's materials were reused, keeping waste low; and thermodynamic roof panels were employed for hot water production. The use of green roofs on both volumes helps reduce surface water wastage and increase biodiversity. At the same time, they add to the area's verdant nature, helping the low structure blend into its surroundings.
Edgley's practice is highly experienced in residential design. About half of its work is in this domain and in fact this house is the second he built for his family. The first one, a tight urban-infill in Islington, completed in 2007, effectively kick-started his independent practice. 'In many ways this inner-urban approach is what we have brought to Dulwich,' explains Edgley. 'I think there are a surprising number of these kind of plots around London. They tend to be in areas that are not quite on the map and you need to look on the fringes of the developed city to find them. What I like about London's infill plots is that they demand a creative approach.'