Water House is an ecology driven design for a new four bedroom home in North Norfolk with a GIA of 182m2. The rural site sits alongside the River Glaven: a sensitive ecological feature, the proposed home plays an important role as part of the river’s ecosystem.
The local ecology is being harmed by high levels of pesticide and fertiliser reaching the waterway. Water House removes contaminants from surface water before it reached the river.
The architecture reflects the filtration process. Rooms are articulated as separated forms, linked by delicate glazed elements. Each subsequent form steps down with the topography, using falls to aerate the water along this journey. The combination of south facing glazing and internal ponds utilise the water’s thermal mass, maximising useful heat gains and regulating the internal temperature.
Externally, the resulting architecture is of a simple and sculptural landscape form that falls gently towards the River Glaven.
The riparian ecosystem is not the only reason for the site being sensitive.
The site is in close proximity to a number of listed buildings, sits within two conservation areas and is also within the Norfolk Coast AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).
The site is also within the open countryside, requiring the highest standards of design under Paragraph 79 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The wording of this policy has been much debated but ultimately each local authority must decide what passes this litmus test, usually at planning committee. The quality is set at a national level and many have not approved a single proposal to date. See our national database here.
Water Filtration Process
When it rains, surface water washes excess fertiliser and pesticide into the waterway. This causes excess algae growth and a reduction in oxygen levels, seriously affecting the health of mammals, birds and fish (WHO, 1999). High nitrate levels in water are also damaging to human health leading to the identification of Nitrate Risk Zones and Drinking Water Safeguard Zones, which are in place at the site.
The proposal channels surface water from the upper fieldscape and road. Water is guided to a collection tank, filtered through a series of internal and external ponds and then guided to the proposed marsh and ponds. The wet landscape treatment will create boundaries as well as micro-habitats, foraging and shelter opportunities for wildlife, including a variety of water-loving plants, invertebrates and amphibians benefitting species further up the food chain.
Aeration, filtration and nitrate loving plants all help to remove contaminants. The bi-annual cultivation of ‘nitrate-loving’ plants and the removal of mobilised sediment from the landscape lowers levels of contaminants to an acceptable level before water re-enters the eco-system in the lower fieldscape.
Furthermore, analysis showed that the whole-site (1.9 ha) approach to processing water would help to mitigate flood through attenuation ponds and the introduction of a new wetland landscape.
The use of surface water here is symbiotic – the proposed home benefits from the high thermal mass properties of water. A water storage tank in the garage provides a thermal store as part of the home’s passive heating strategy.
The facade is designed with a variety of local species in mind. A compartmentalised void behind the facade, accessed via external openings can be appropriated by birds, bats, invertebrates and plants without affecting the durability of the building fabric.
Parametric modelling is used in an innovative way: setting limits within which opening sizes and locations are positioned. Parameters take into account the preferred habitats for species identified through ecological investigations. In this way we can ensure a certain amount of control of the cladding aesthetic and the locations of particular species.
The project was developed in collaboration with a team of environmentally forward thinking specialists including:
Hydrology – Amber Hydrology
Ecology – Torc Ecology
Landscape design – Terra Firma
Energy – Atmos Lab
Advice from Frog Environmental (water quality and sediment specialists) also informed the proposal.