A three-bedroomed house in Hove, designed by BBM Sustainable Design, has lifted eco-architecture clear of the taint of muesli and sandals and deposited it at the crux of moneyed, middle-class domestic aspiration. The building is formed around the core of an unremarkable villa that once stood on the site, and the crisp new carapace makes the portentous vernacularity around it seem fusty. There is an architectural cuckoo in the nest of one of the city's poshest 'hoods.
The house, shortlisted for the Royal Institute of British Architects' Manser Medal, is doubly significant. It fuses modernist volumes with unmodernist building materials that are unheard of in such a self-consciously precious purlieu, and that would be regarded as iffy by most architects and builders.
The accident of the building's physical position accentuates its architectural difference and makes it an object-lesson in the kind of architectural progression that cuts deftly through the grain of the known. The Hove house sits half-way up Dyke Road. This is brazenly exclusive territory, containing architecturally overdressed palazzos encrusted with elaborate gates, balconies and 'features' whose scales, outlooks and effects are sometimes acutely droll.
The apotheosis of Dyke Road's splash-it-all-over architectural manner can be found four or five stone's throws from the subject of this piece. The demesne in question is buffered by an array of motors parked " sorry, parked up " in the vast forecourt. There are perhaps 10 architecturally modified clones in Dyke Road; a dozen lesser-beamed versions; and a sprinkling of greater-crested portico variants. So, what is alternative eco-architecture doing here, where waxed and buffed SUVs and Ocado delivery vans roam, and where 'alternative' can only mean Waitrose, as opposed to Marks & Spencer's food hall? What, indeed, is Donna Gray doing here? Gray and her partner run a furniture and interiors consultancy called Milk Design, and she admits that, having grown up in Brighton, she'd always sworn that Dyke Road would be the last place she would have chosen to live: not cool enough; inherently conservative.
Architecture has clearly changed her mind, transcending doubts about location. The presence of the Hove house is based on restraint rather than extraversion. The finely detailed and calming graphic effect of its street-facing faade, the play of wood against stucco, the asymmetric roofline, the overall clarity of the composition " there's a lightness of touch here that, in these particular urban circumstances, is faintly subversive.
But not as subversive as the palette of materials brought to bear by BBM's principal, Duncan Baker-Brown, and Gray herself " though a mosey around the house doesn't necessarily make this aspect of its architectural content obvious. 'Architect-designed,' an estate agent's blurb might read, 'in prestigious, sought-after location.'
No need to mention the jute and recycled paper insulation in the six- by-two timber frame studwork. And who needs to know about the raw-clay plasterwork, solar panels, laminated bamboo panelling, organic paint and locally sourced sweet-chestnut cladding and joinery? Or that a major portion of the original house was recycled, so the …