From his roof-top flat in west London, Gianni Botsford looks down on a garden tucked behind a starchy row of stuccoed Victorian villas. For years this hidden site, which was reached via a narrow passage from the street, was occupied by a boring bungalow. Botsford thought he could do better. In 2010, he bought the plot and began thinking about how to sculpt an ingenious modern building on this tiny handkerchief of land.
Because the site is overlooked by other houses whose views would be blocked by anything taller than one storey, Botsford had to excavate underground to create space. But going underground risks creating dark rooms. Botsford’s answer was to model the garden’s “solar geometry” to figure out how to create a structure that, top to bottom, would be animated by daylight all year round.
The result is a serene structure in concrete, timber and copper. The ground floor, with its open-plan living room, is glazed on two sides and sits under a geometrically complex roof that curves up to form a skylight that looks like a cross between a ship’s funnel and a ski jump, and is positioned at an optimum angle to draw sunshine into the building throughout the day. Sheathed in copper, the roof will oxidise over time, turning garden-green. Lightwells on either side of the copper-crowned ground floor bring daylight down to a bedroom level and then to a ten-metre swimming pool further below. Throughout the house, copper surfaces and marble walls amplify the illumination.
Such was the intricacy of the process that Botsford has spent the best part of a decade imagining, testing, engineering and building it. The roof, which was designed in eight sections and manufactured in Italy, had to be craned into place over the surrounding buildings. “The fit had to be perfect,” Botsford says. “We had to think through every inch of the house as a completed project from early on.” Sequestered away from the street, “House in a Garden” is forensically conceived and impeccably crafted. It’s a shame that few people will ever see it.