“What I love about domestic design is that it’s an opportunity to really examine the human condition.”
A young firm builds an adventurous rooftop addition
that remains invisible from the street.
London likes to maintain a stately facade, figuratively and
architecturally. But behind the scenes, it’s often a case of
“anything goes as long as no one can see it.” Take, for instance,
the latest project by Atmos Studio: a radical little origami box
of a rooftop apartment concealed behind a staid 18th-century
building in shabby-chic Stoke Newington.
The project is the unlikely result of a charity fund-raiser.
The clients—a musician and his partner—made a donation
in exchange for a one-hour architecture consultation. Until
then, they had just about given up on converting their cramped
top-floor apartment; stringent building restrictions in the
historic neighborhood meant that any addition would have
to remain invisible from the street. A real increase in space
Atmos’s Alex Haw, the architect whose consultation the
couple won, saw otherwise. He convinced them with a plan
that generated an additional 215 square feet via an extra story
with a faceted roof, carved like a gemstone by sight-line restrictions and split in two by a butterflylike skylight. Beneath the
skylight, the new interior revolves around an extraordinary
open staircase. Its wooden newel resembles the trunk of
a tree, although Haw sees it more as “a bunched series of informational strands,” which wind like tendrils around the house.
In keeping with the musical occupants, everything moves to
a rhythm. The reverse sides of the open stairs become shelves
and seats in the downstairs living room. Upstairs, the tendrils
become a virtually continuous line of woodwork, forming
bookshelves, a desk, a bed, and even a bench on the triangular
roof terrace. Hand-built but computer-visualized, the apartment is an intricate exercise in spatial efficiency, with every
little pocket of the 700 square feet accounted for.
“What I love about domestic design is that it’s an opportu-
nity to really examine the human condition,” says Haw, who
studied at Princeton and worked for Diller Scofidio + Renfro
before founding Atmos in 2007. “There’s almost a psychother-
apy element to it, hopefully leading to the inhabitants’ union.
You’re dealing with everything. You’re thinking about the ritual
of how you move through spaces and what you do in them—
even the bath becomes an experience.”
The bath actually is an experience. Shielded behind the facade,
you can gaze at the sky through a wall of glass, unobserved
from the street below. ( You could even sunbathe naked on the
terrace, the architect notes.) As for the psychotherapy aspect,
it might have worked too well. The couple now have a young
son, born shortly after the work was completed, and they’re
talking about moving into a bigger home. You can’t plan
Atmos added an
extra story (above)
with two bedrooms,
a bathroom, and a
tiny rooftop terrace.
The timber “strands”
of an open staircase
wind through the
house to form shelving and built-in furniture. Atmos calls it
“the Woven Nest.”
A sight-line diagram (above) shows how
the parameters of the roof pitch were determined by the views from steet level (left).