Shawm House, United Kingdom

Shawm House / MawsonKerr


Shawm House is a multi-award winning self-build and a truly unique project.  An exemplar in rural residential design, innovation and construction, Shawm is located in a beautiful but exposed Northumberland setting.  Designed for retired couple Anne and Tony Pender within the grounds of their existing farmhouse the house is the product of five years of collaboration between  Dan Kerr of MawsonKerr Architects and the client’s son, Richard Pender.  
The project takes a complex site, challenging brief and budget constraints to produce an elegant, crisp and stimulating building.  Remarkably, although it wasn’t the original intent, and despite no previous experience of building at this scale, Richard went on to build the house himself.
Deemed in open countryside by the local planning authority and in the curtilage of a listed building it was granted planning permission due to an ‘exceptionally high quality of design’. The house consists of a timber frame new build which links to a small existing stone stable block.  These elements along with the new timber framed outbuilding are ‘anchored’ to the existing stone wall which acts as a shield to the prevailing winds and an axis between the new builds.
The design is contextually driven with a simple barn like form, locally sourced materials and framed views. One is aware of the countryside all around whilst any over-looking issues to the client’s existing farmhouse are successfully addressed. The layout takes precedent from the historic Bastles of the area with the living space on the first floor, though this time it is for spatial quality and views rather than defence.  The house is wrapped in a thick larch ‘blanket’ that seamlessly envelopes the roof and walls, below which is a highly insulated and airtight building.  Internally the clever use of natural light and spatial contrast, combined with the warm textures of wood in contrast to clean white washed walls creates a warm and delightful space for the clients to enjoy.
Living and working on site Richard manufactured the entire supersized timber frame in the old hay shed with a specially designed jig.  Local materials have been used throughout the project. The larch cladding was specifically sourced from the Borders and trees felled from the site itself and have been used throughout the house in the bespoke built-in-furniture, kitchen, tables and stairs.  The stone to the gable end of the house and garage was sourced from Northumberland.   
Incorporating Passivhaus principles the building is designed to the highest standards of energy efficiency whilst not compromising on the design aesthetic.  Super insulation to both the new and existing elements, triple glazing throughout, and an extremely airtight construction combined with mechanical heat recovery ventilation all reduce energy demand, allowing the integrated renewables, which include solar photovoltaics and a biomass boiler, to cover the vast majority of the buildings energy needs.   Great care was taken in the detailing of the all the junctions to avoid thermal bridging; the whole timber frame sits on foamglass blocks, the structure above the huge frameless triple glazed corner glass window is entirely cantilevered in timber.  Rainwater harvesting further reduces the building’s footprint, and careful attention to accessibility, including the inclusion of a small lift, future proofs the house and enhances still further the holistic sustainability of the building.
Though there was initial apprehension with regard to the self-build approach to such an ambitious building it ultimately proved a key contributor to the project’s success, allowing as it did for a spirit of collaboration between ‘architect’ and ‘builder’ through the whole process  and retaining the quality and design intent to the finished building – a true design and build.  Indeed so successful was the relationship that MawsonKerr and Richard are using this knowledge and experience as a blueprint for a new venture that will look to offer a step change in the construction and development of inspiring design led and truly sustainable housing.

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