Involving an unorthodox brief to house ten tortoises and a client eager to commission an exemplar of ecologically responsive design, this project synthesises form and materials to create a compact yet highly striking structure. Occupying a garden site in Northern Ireland, it takes the form of a 2.8m high curved stone wall that defines and conceals the tortoise house. Bands of roughly chipped sandstone varying in depth and length powerfully express the thickness and texture of the stone. Drip details are deliberately omitted, so the wall will evolve over time in a natural and beautiful way,
Beyond the wall, the tortoise house is constructed from highly insulated timber walls and a frameless, triple-glazed roof. The refined, frameless glass detail creates the illusion of an enclosure open to the sky, maximising light and warmth. Treated glass prevents overheating. Within the minimal interior, a streamlined kitchen provides a food preparation and bathing area for the tortoises. Underfloor heating is controlled by a thermostat to maintain an optimum temperature all year round.
The walls of the enclosure are clad in cedar slats treated and protected by charring, a technique based on traditional Japanese construction. The cedar is allowed to burn until it is blackened and charred, effectively sealing it without the need for chemical treatments which can damage the environment. Employed for the first time in the UK, the technique results in a long-lasting and visually alluring finish. Elegant bronze detailing protects the cedar and counterpoints the rich tones of the wood.
The combination of rough stone and smooth burnt timber gives the building a distinctive presence that merges with the garden landscape while providing a functional enclosure for its venerable reptilian residents. As tortoises are famous for their longevity, the project is also an apt manifestion of Paul McAneary Architects philosophy of wabi sabi, in which elements are subtly transmuted through age and use. [By Catherine Slessor*]
Contract Value Private
Location Nothern Ireland
Date 2010 – 2011
Design Team Paul McAneary Architects
Design Service From design concept to detailed design to the end of construction, interior design, lighting design, glazing design, landscape design, structural design, material creation, survey, planning, building control, 3D visualisation
Main Contractor L. S. Construction
Supplier The Plank Co, Top Glass, Thomas Rooney & Sons Ltd, Rathbanna Limited
Press 2013 BD New Architects 2013, 2010 ‘Masonary Overview’, AJ Specification, November 2010
Awards 2012 Surface Design Awards – Highly Commended for Housing Exterior Surface Award