Nithurst Farm, Sussex
Situated in open fields on the site of a farmworker’s cottage in the South Downs National Park, Nithurst Farm is a new-build family home for the founder of Adam Richards Architects. Wrapped in a thick brick skin with a black zinc roof, the core of the house is built from structural concrete. The profile of the house is stepped, from a single-storey entrance on the north side to a three-storey tower, which is expressed as a grid on the south elevation.
“The house represents the culmination of a ten-year engagement with this beautiful site in the South Downs National Park”, says Adam Richards. “I wanted to experiment by mixing the geometries of abstract art with aspects of traditional architectural forms and materials, while also designing a home to celebrate and intensify the experiences of family life. On the one hand it could be described as 'an industrial ruin wrapped in a Roman ruin', but it also represents a journey in time and space towards a spiritual homecoming."
Arched brick window openings with deep reveals give a rhythm to the splayed lateral elevations, expressing the weight of the walls. The sense of motion suggested by the stepped form is emphasised in the patina of the brick skin, with blackened bricks around the arched brick window openings creating the illusion of movement.
The entrance off the farm courtyard leads into a dark vestibule of exposed concrete walls, opening into a 4.5-metre-high kitchen, dining and family room. In contrast to the carefully composed brick elevations, the walls and ceilings of the concrete inner frame are left rough-and-ready, but softened by pine flooring, reclaimed stone, sisal carpets and brass fittings. The plan tapered on the north-south axis, creating a false perspective that heightens the sense of a journey to the house’s principal destination, the south-facing sitting room. Stairs in the lateral ‘towers’ lead to children’s bedrooms and guest rooms on the first floor. Double doors open to a central stair leading up to the master bedroom where the ascent is rewarded with sweeping views of open countryside through full-height, south-facing windows. The house is designed to appear both ancient and contemporary – its weighty and tactile materials relate to the surrounding farm buildings, while the abstraction of its stepped form is suggestive of minimalist sculpture.
Nithurst Farm is designed for a 500-year life, which led the architect to specify robust and durable materials, and the concept of a modern concrete house wrapped in a Roman ruin, with structural brick arched openings. “We wanted to highlight this theme of deliberate anachronism by emphasising the separate qualities of the brick outer skin and the concrete inner one”, says Adam Richards. “We have placed the glazing in the concrete zone, allowing the backs of the brick arches to be visible from inside. This gives the brick outer layer an autonomous quality, whilst registering the presence of the well-insulated cavity. To achieve this, the brick layer thickens-up around the windows, and the outward thrust of the rear part of the arches is taken by thermally-separated steel angles bolted back to the concrete. We used 30mm lime mortar joints in the stepped brickwork to emphasise the weight and sculptural form of the building. This enabled us to eschew movement joints, and improved the overall appearance of the bricks. It also plays a visual game of scale. Wall ties fix back to vertical stainless steel slots cast into the concrete. Darker bricks are used running north from the arched windows: based on ‘motion-blur’ in cartoons, this helps create the uncanny sense of a heavy building that seems somehow ‘on the move’.”
The house has won the RIBA South East Building of the Year Award 2019, a RIBA National Award 2019, and it was shortlisted for RIBA House of the Year and the Manser Medal.