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Minimal UK townhome blends glass, plywood, steel, concrete

On an abandoned lot in South London, architect Carl Turner and his minimalist wife Mary Martin created a new type of terrace house that, in contrast to its Victorian neighbors, resembles stacked glass cubes.

Occupying most of a small plot in Brixton, Slip House is one of the UK’s most sustainable homes, but it’s not all windmills and solar panels. Instead, the house’s three “slipped” (cantilevered) cuboids create an ultra-modern exterior and a calm, zen-like, open-spaced interior.

The cement and steel structure of the home is covered by a semi-opaque glass that opens the home to the street by allowing passersby to see the moving shadows inside. It’s a new type of upside-down house: the bottom floor houses Turner’s architecture office, the middle floor is the living quarters and the top floor with the best views is reserved for living.

Martin and Turner are minimalists so to create a kind of sanctuary, they have hidden nearly all of their things behind hand-crafted birch plywood furniture. “We just think that you don’t necessarily want to look at everything all the time. Mary wanted a space that had a monastic kind of feel where she could really relax and chill out without having to look at the washing up in the sink.”

To make their small space appear larger, the architects used a few sleights of hand tricks:

  • Cantilever furniture: “Most of the furniture hovers, it’s all cantilevered from the walls so you get the space flowing underneath. So it’s a trick. The furniture takes up the same amount of space, and yet it kind of feels like the room’s bigger than it really is.”
  • Floor-to-ceiling doors: “doors are all full height so the floors and the ceilings flow from one space to another.”
  • Continuous flooring: “Things like not changing the floor materials between rooms so you get the sense of this constant surface flowing through the building.”
  • Few materials: “Not using too many materials so somehow the materials, because we haven’t used like 5 different kinds of materials it makes the space feel bigger.”

Achieving a Level 5 for sustainable homes- the highest rating in the UK-, Slip House relies on “‘energy piles’ which use a solar assisted ground source heat pump integrated into the pile foundations”, a wildflower green roof, rainwater harvesting, permeable driveway, photovoltaics, mechanical ventilation with heat recovery and underfloor heating.

Arguably what makes Slip House sustainable isn’t in its materials, but in its flexibility to change with the needs of its tenants. It can morph from single-family home to apartment plus office to a home plus in-law unit. Currently, Martin and Turner are “living over the shop”, but it’s a setup that they hope could be a model for affordable housing.  “This flexible type of home can allow for the artisan or home-worker to sub-let or downsize. This can enliven local communities and produce ‘homes’ which create opportunities rather than be dormitories or financial assets.”