The Orchid House [2009]

WINNER 2009 RIBA IOW Award

The Orchid House, St Helens


History -

The new glass house just completed on this site owes its origins to a Victorian Orchid House erected in 1895 by a Mr Spindler, owner of the Old Park Estate.

Orchid growing was a Victorian passion requiring the latest technology: prefabricated cast iron green houses heated by coal fired boilers manufactured, in this case, by Boulton and Paul of Norwich.

The original Orchid House fell into disrepair and vanished to the extent that it does not even appear on the 1951 Ordnance Survey.

40 plus years later the site was cleared revealing a substantial brick vaulted basement housing the original plant and carrying the original tiled floor and planting troughs.

Orchid House, St Helens, Isle of Wight, Architecture


Design - 

My clients purchased the site in 2004 with a Planning consent to re-erect a (totally impractical) single glazed Victorian pastiche glass house for residential use.

My brief was simple in theory: negotiate with the local authority and obtain statutory consents for a modern glass house to be erected on the original footprint of the extant Victorian brick and stone basement which would be converted to studio and workshop space for the artist client.

The house evokes the original Orchid House without slavishly re-creating the Victorian original, a point that the local planners found it difficult to accept, resulting in a considerable, un-necessary and frustrating delay to the project.

The internal layout was designed primarily by the client who is a designer and also project managed the build. Four principle spaces: Kitchen/Diner; Hall; Lounge; Conservatory flow into each other via wide sliding oak doors that disappear into slots in the walls. All the principle rooms face South towards the sea, views being framed by the trees lining Old Park Road. Service, Utility, Cloaks and Storage areas line the North elevation facing the cliff.

The stair rising from the hall which is open to the roof links the ground floor to four bedrooms and a bathroom at first floor level accessed off an open gallery. The two principle bedrooms at either end of the house have their own en-suite facilities.

The major intervention so far as the existing site was concerned was to excavate down to basement level at the front of the property to create a shallow pool to allow sunlight and dappled reflections to enter the artist’s studio and provide a private external terrace on the otherwise public side of the building.

Orchid House, St Helens, Isle of Wight, Architecture


Technical -

Technical points of interest are the high performance glazing system by Solaglas using self-cleaning glass. Underfloor perimeter heating throughout removes the need for radiators which would be visually intrusive against the glass walls.

The impractical glass roof of the original planning approval was substituted for a heavily insulated natural slate roof to compensate for the glass walls and avoid massive thermal losses.

Thermal mass was achieved through the introduction of new load bearing masonry cross walls, West gable end and rear North wall constructed in rendered blockwork. A new 200mm reinforced concrete slab was cast over the original brick vaults.

Despite all the glass the house provides a very comfortable even temperature, the clients report that heating is only required on the coldest of winter days.

The large expanses of wall provide hanging space for the client’s huge canvases and enclose spaces large enough to accommodate their collection of sculpture and furniture as can be seen in the attached photographs.

Orchid House, Isle of Wight, St Helens, Architecture

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