I didn’t expect to like the Prince’s House at the BRE Innovation Park, Watford. Developed by The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, construction originally began in 2009 and I’d watched it slowly grow. The front elevation had struck me as trying to be both modern and traditional without being either; the large, single pane windows begged for glazing bars and the strange central column embellishing the first floor balcony seemed, well, a strange embellishment.
When I went inside these thoughts evaporated. Some housebuilders could learn a lot from the interiors. They feel light, airy and spacious which is surprising when the homes are actually not that big. The tricks that have been employed to achieve this are simple and, as one might expect from the Prince, are based on traditional ideas. For a start the ceiling heights are higher than in most modern homes. What’s more, glazing above the doors has introduced borrowed light. And then, off course, there are those windows, these let in a huge amount of light and give proportion to the rooms.
Another factor that contributes to the comfortable feel of the interiors is the build quality and detailing. They have an incredible sense of solidity due to the construction techniques and materials used while a feeling of light and shade results from the simple and solid joinery, in particular the architraves around the doors. The use of natural materials completes the sense of desirability.
The project partners are BRE, Natural Building Technologies – as consultants and materials supplier – and Kingerlee Homes. Originally known as the Natural House, the emphasis is on natural materials of low-impact provenance and traditional design and construction methods. The materials employed – aerated clay blocks, lime based plasters and renders – reduce the risk of VOCs and off-gassing. Plastic membranes are eschewed in favour of vapour-open insulating systems while air quality is maintained by a passive ventilation system.
Essentially, The Prince’s House is a traditional house for the 21st century. This helps to explain its appearance – an exterior conceived to sit in an urban setting and reflect the proportions and styles of architecture that one might find there. As the Prince said, the house “doesn’t wear its ‘greenness’ as if it was the latest piece of haute couture”.
Image credit: The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment