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These 2 houses on Narrow Street, Limehouse are 4 storied Grade II listed houses that face the Thames to the rear, and fronts onto Narrow Street in Limehouse E14. They form part of a 'small family' of terraced houses in historic Limehouse, terminated at one end by 'The Grapes' Public House, and Studio 92 (also a KMK remodelling) at the other.

Being narrow at only 4m wide, on average, their footprints gently absorb the radius of the, often giving a ‘wedged’ plan. Early photographs of 1880 show rear facades with little order, crowded with as-hoc extensions, jetties and crane supports for the boatyards and marine/river services provided from these buildings.

The terrace was severely damaged during the war, and the decline of London’s Docks probably mean that the properties remained unused for a long time. The original street facades remain, but beyond that, all else was reconstructed during the mid-late 1960's.

The client's brief was to combine 2 adjoining houses into one family sized house. As one was already refurbished a few years before by KMK, the design combined the rooms at each level into one larger room. This occurred from the first floor up to the third.

The riverside faces south, which allows for passive solar gain, and also benefits from generous lighting both direct and reflected off the river. We wanted to retain the verticality of the elevations of the houses, which retain some of the characteristics of this diverse group of buildings.
To repeat and extend the glazed façade of the earlier refurbishment would result in a more horizontal emphasis, sitting uncomfortably within the overall group.
Our strategy was to subtly unify the houses by applying a ‘second layer’ of timber over the existing rear wall. This screen combined both vertical elevations and referred to traditional ways of making riverfront architecture.

The screen is of 'Kebony' southern pine, a pre-treated timber developed for the marine industry. It is dimensionally stable, and performs well in marine locations. A single large opening was created for the later house, fitted with 3 vertical side hung 'shutters'. Each shutter panel was infilled with individually opening blades of timber. When closed, the blades could still be cranked open to provide a view out, yet help to reduce the bright glare than often emanated from the river. This system was invented and developed by KMK, which we had initially tested off-site with prototypes.

The window behind the shutters is a modern oversize version of the sash window. The windows are counterbalanced, allowing simultaneous opening of the top and bottom sashes.

As both a listed building and an existing structure, the building required a sensitive approach in how to bring it close to contemporary sustainable expected standards - especially in its use of energy. In principle, the orientation of the building benefits from generous passive solar gain, and in practice, the energy required to heat the house is significantly reduced due to this factor.

Our approach is to make the best use of the existing potentials and supplement them further with passive energy sources (both direct via sunlight internally, and indirect through PV’s and solar hot water)
Additionally, we try to do what is necessary with minimal waste. The majority of the structure, openings and fabric remained as is, and upgraded only where necessary.

All materials were selected to minimise the embodied energy content where possible- hence the use of timber on the rear. The least insulated parts of the houses are the north facing windows (covered in the listing) and the roof. Little could be improved with the existing windows except to repair & overhaul them to improve airtightness. They are not large and therefore do not significantly compromise energy losses. The roof was insulated further.

Houses on the River 1 & 2: Agere

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