2018 - click > to browse thumbnails - click pictures to browse images full size

Visit to Birmingham


The house is a surprising addition to the Victorian streetscape. Its appearance is explained by the combination of a modest  semi-detached villa and a new 3 storey extension built on what had been a wide access to the rear garden. After our warm welcome, we were ushered into the garden to hear the history of the project. The house was built in response to the ambitious 2007 UK Code for Sustainable Homes - sadly subsequently repealed.

One ambition was to demonstrate that “Green” didn’t mean boring. Another was to combine and fully insulate both buildings without altering the exterior appearance of the old house. To achieve this, the new building is insulated on the outside using modern methods, whilst the old building is insulated on the inside. Although this meant a loss of internal space this has been turned into a positive by the playful use of angled window reveals and mirrors - most obviously in the bathroom.

The main load-bearing walls of house, three stories high, are made from unfired earth blocks.

The main living space on the ground floor has 3 distinct areas: a large 2 storey central atrium with a large window in the roof; a kitchen diner off at the rear with access to the garden, and a smaller area at the front complete with drum kit.

On the first floor were bedrooms and a bathroom. Shuttered interior windows on both upper floors gave views down into the living space and on the top floor there was a large room with a grand piano.

Pleasant combinations of building materials were evident throughout as many surfaces, old and new,  were left in their natural state. The floors throughout the house were made of rammed earth sealed with citrus oil and beeswax. The stairs were made using reclaimed 200-year-old  maple that had been the floor of a silk factory.  This was used for the window seat on the upper floor - another positive result from thick internal walls.  The maple was also used for the tapering dining table, and offcuts used to make slatted kitchen shelves. I was particularly impressed by the strips of reclaimed wood that ran along the walls next to the skirtings allowing easy access to the electrical wiring - not hidden in the walls as in conventional building.

The design made  remarkable use of every space to provide storage, from small triangular shelves in a bedroom to the large corridor upstairs devoted to clothes and boxes.    
You will find more images, design and technical details, and media responses on their website:




Smaller than I remembered, The Barber Institute is nevertheless is  one of Birmingham’s finest Art Deco buildings - worth a visit in its own right. It houses a fine collection of European art in the UK.
There was a very informative display with different types of printmaking and numerous colouring techniques. It also suggested the effects of changing artistic and social contexts.
The Rhythm of Light exhibited early 20th century works by The Scottish Colourists who responded to the revolutionary impact of French art  – and produced some of the most vibrant images of their day.


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