Modern Masters: Nick Hayhurst on Hayhurst & Co. and the RIBA House of the Year awards

In our series ‘Modern Masters’, we’re meeting with some of our favourite architects, designers and makers to profile their practice and get their unique insights on architecture, interiors and design inspiration.

With the recent announcement of the nominations for the 2017 RIBA House of the Year, we caught up with Nick Hayhurst whose residential work has featured in the prestigious line-up for the second year running.

“We love working on people’s homes and really enjoy the collaboration with clients and the determination that many have to do something unique. Jonathan Nicholls – my co-Director – and I, both studied at the Architectural Association where there was a real spirit of inventiveness and experimentation and this underpins the work that we now do together in practice. We often try to find unusual ways of using materials, arranging spaces or sculpting daylight that tells a story about how the site is used or how a client wants their home to work.

“It’s not that we’re only interested in designing one-off houses – we’ve designed some pretty unique schools, have just competed a competition design for a bereavement centre in Liverpool and are working on a co-housing scheme for 12 families – it’s just that individual homes provide the opportunity for a rich and meaningful engagement with the people who will use the buildings we design.

“Whole House is now on the longlist for the RIBA House of the Year which means it’s in the final 20.  Last year our Garden House made the final shortlist – so it’s nice to be in the running for the second year in a row.

“What excited us about Whole House was the challenge of harnessing the daylight and creating the maximum sense of space on a small site where we didn’t have anywhere we could put a window. Conventionally, architects limit the circulation routes to make the main habitable spaces as large as possible; but what we did with Whole House was to actually have a long circulation route wrapping around a central courtyard. It’s counterintuitive but what it does is increases the sense of space as you move around it and makes a relatively small, urban site feel like a long journey with a amazing set of sky-level, tree-top views. The RIBA judges said ‘To enter the house is to enter another world.’

“The courtyard is glazed on all four sides so as you move around the house it offers different views up and out of the courtyard to the trees and neighbouring houses. It also floods the house with natural light.

“Good design brings a heightened quality of life – it adds everyday joy and pleasure to an environment. I’ve recently refurbished my own 1960s home on the Dulwich Estate in South London which won an RIBA Award when it was originally built in 1970 and from personal experience it’s the tactile satisfaction from using a space: the view from my favourite seat, watching light pour down the stairs or watching my wild-flower green roof grow which makes me feel good about where I live.

“Before Dulwich, I lived in a house designed by Chamberlain Powell and Bon on the Vanburgh Park Estate in Greenwich. Both homes are located on dense, well-designed low-rise estates built with a sense of ‘an economy of means’ but also attention to how privacy works, delight in small details and the way that the arrangement of homes can help foster a sense of community. Where I have lived has definitely influenced our work.

“Both Whole House and Garden House are positioned on backland sites and part of the wider agenda with these types of spaces is the potential to maximise the use of underused sites in ways that don’t impinge on other people’s privacy or the quality of the outlook. It’s really interesting to think about how these sites could be used to resolve some of the housing issues London is facing.

“In the wider world of architecture and design I think there’s something really interesting in the interpretations of context that have emerged in the last 10 years or so. Whereas previous approaches to architecture have resulted in defining styles, we’re now in a period of contextualism and with a renewed interest in how people live and communities work: I’m enjoying the interest in the local, the specific and the individual use of space.”

Whole House is currently for sale with The Modern House: View the Sales Listing

View properties on the Vanburgh Park Estate and the Dulwich Estate

Read more about Hayhurst & Co. in our Directory of Architects and Designers