The CLT House by Unknown Works
The CLT House in East London is a perfect example of how ordinary can be turned into extraordinary. Designed by London-based creative studio Unknown Works, the house is a striking yellow modern extension to a semi-detached, brick infill terrace house. The architects’ primary objective was to add space for a young creative family’s musical and creative pursuits, as well as reconnection to the rest of the house, which required a complete overhaul of the cramped and dark ground floor.
Unknown Works’ design solution was to use cross-laminated timber (CLT) as a flexible, cost-effective, and sustainable building technology. The creative studio designed a kit of prefabricated structural panels in Spruce CLT, which were assembled onsite in just four days. The CLT panels were insulated, coated in textural render, and painted a bold banana yellow to form a stepped rear extension and cubic front porch. The construction and exterior finishing exemplify Unknown Works’ creative exploration of materials, and how stretching their conventional uses can add life and dynamism to even the most pedestrian setting.
The interior of the house is equally impressive, with the CLT panels left exposed to create a warm and inviting atmosphere. The rear extension is home to a new open-plan, flexible kitchen and dining space with inbuilt CLT seating and reading nooks. Overhead, the structural CLT grid is left exposed, creating the opportunity for long recessed bespoke aluminium lighting tracks that fill the extension with ambient light, designed to enhance the natural texture of the internal timber.
The staggered form of the extension allowed the architects to include a cook’s herb garden by the kitchen. Skylights are inset into the CLT structure, bringing focused daylight from above, paired with large sliding doors that frame views of the garden and courtyard. The rear extension links to the existing house through a new central courtyard of white pebbles. The front sitting and rear dining rooms both open onto the new lightwell-courtyard through large sliding glass doors, creating a fully connected ground floor plan when open, as well as natural cross-ventilation.
Intrigued by the idea of using one core material and stretching its applications, Unknown Works designed and handcrafted dimmer switches for their clients, cutting large discs from structural CLT remnants. The creative studio also designed an oversized custom pivot door in CLT, which provides a playful sense of entry.
Owner of Aucoot, John McDavid commented on the design, saying, “Unknown Works’ CLT House demonstrates their ability to take a simple construction technology and make it extraordinary in any context or scale. By truly embracing the commonplace and exploring how it can be stretched and challenged, the creative studio has superseded this British stock terrace house with a bright and bold upgrade.”
The owners were equally impressed, saying, “Unknown Works have laid the house out beautifully. It’s great to be able to open and close the spaces off and reconfigure them to suit what we’re up to. We opted to use materials that will develop a patina and age gracefully, even as they develop wear and tear. The stainless steel kitchen and concrete floors add an industrial character that we love, and the harshness of these materials is offset by the yellow CLT and warm timber. It’s a space that totally reflects our character.”
The CLT House is a perfect example of how creativity, innovation, and design thinking can transform a mundane structure into a stunning work of art. Unknown Works’ bold use of CLT, combined with their attention to detail and ability to stretch the conventional uses of materials, has created a beautiful and functional home that is sure to inspire and delight for years to come.
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