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The Autonomous Subterranean House

Residential Build
Aerial View of The Autonomous Subterranean House
The Autonomous Subterranean House
The Autonomous Subterranean House
The Autonomous Subterranean House - Open plan kitchen and dining area
The Autonomous Subterranean House - Shuttered concrete finishes
The Autonomous Subterranean House
The Autonomous Subterranean House - Master bedroom views
The Autonomous Subterranean House
The Autonomous Subterranean House
The Autonomous Subterranean House
The Autonomous Subterranean House
The Autonomous Subterranean House
The Autonomous Subterranean House
The Autonomous Subterranean House
The Autonomous Subterranean House - Ground floor plan
The Autonomous Subterranean House - Upper basement floor plan
The Autonomous Subterranean House - Lower basement floor plan

Surrounded by the Beautiful Peak District National Park, this new build Eco House is sited on a steeply sloping landscape. This provided a unique challenge to balance performance, function, and aesthetics on what is regarded as a sensitive location. Over ten years, three designers contributed to the success of this project:

- Architect Arthur Quarmby was approached by the clients and undertook an initial briefing and composed a design concept. (RIBA Stages 0-2)
- Architectural Designer Akiva Lawson was appointed to revise the brief and take the building from concept design to a successful planning application. His response to the site formed the concept of the building being stepped into the hillside, and the external material treatment. (RIBA Stages 0-3)
- Arkhi Architects were appointed to revise the design of the project, working with the clients to successfully submit the revised proposal for planning approval. The internal spaces, and external landscape areas, were then designed by Arkhi Architects before the whole project was developed. This addressed the detail and technical specification to make the house buildable and achievable within the parameters of the clients brief and budget. (RIBA Stages 2-6)

The project brief included a great number of environmental and ecological requirements to be met. From the highway, the building appears to be single storey and of a modest size. However, the South Elevation, which is not overlooked and benefits from uninterrupted views, cascades down the hillside with large expanses of floor to ceiling glazing - making the most of the views and solar gain.

Situated within the beautiful Derbyshire countryside this challenging site provided an opportunity to produce an interesting and bespoke response to the clients brief for an environmentally conscious family home. The building merges with the geological formation of the hillside, split over several floors which carve into the landscape. A subtle curve on the south façade integrates the house into its setting. The steep sloping topography of the site resulted in major excavation, allowing the house to become almost subterranean in its nature, and greatly reducing its impact on the context.

The materiality of the building was specified with an emphasis on responding appropriately to the context of the historic village. Limestone rubble cladding - hand-picked from the excavated stone - is the primary cladding material for the visible walls. This provides a finish that respects the vernacular of the local rural architecture. The flat roofs of the lower storeys, which double as terraces, have been designed as green roofs and are laid with turf. This effectively merges the lower levels of the building into meadow of the existing hillside.

Due to the subterranean nature of the build, optimum levels of glazing have been carefully arranged on the south façade. This maximises the infiltration of natural light to the internal spaces and serves to provide sweeping views of the Peak District from every habitable room. The large expanses of glazing are interspliced by responsibly sourced Scottish Larch on the lower floors. This softens the relationship between the building and the hidden private gardens.

Sustainability was at the heart of the project brief and was a key objective in all design decisions. The building uses solar gain in conjunction with high thermal mass, high levels of insulation to capture heat during the day and seal it in overnight with back-insulating window shutters. A mechanical ventilation and heat recovery system works with the underfloor heating to regulate the internal heat levels, circulating air and water around the mass to equalise the temperature consistently through the buildings living spaces. Photovoltaic panels integrated into the south facing roof provide electricity to house, and to heat the immersion boilers. Rainwater harvesting, and a passive drainage system support the water requirements of the house, reducing its need for mains water. In future, a filter may be installed to make the grey water potable. As all the electrical, plumbing and ventilation systems are left exposed, access and replacement or upgrade to these services would incur minimal disruption to the building, increasing the longevity and flexibility of building. This building has a target lifespan of at least 100 years.

Internally the house has been designed to maximise the use of the structure which was necessary for the construction of the building. The ground floor is inserted as a lightweight timber intervention, finished entirely in ash-veneered ply. A central bridge offers additional space and light to the kitchen and dining areas below, as well as offering the visitor an indication of what lies beneath the ground. On the lower, subterranean floors, the materiality shifts to the more geological exposed concrete, clay plaster and blockwork finishes. The concrete serves as thermal mass, main retaining and support structure, waterproofing and internal finish, featuring textured shuttering in the kitchen area. The bathrooms are finished in Moroccan Tadelakt, adding to the carved, geological quality of the subterranean spaces.