Rural Edge Retrofit

Michael Collins Architects, Hitchin, 2023



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This project involves a low cost low operational and low carbon retrofit of a mid-century property on the edge of the Hertfordshire countryside for a young family that had recently entered the property market.

The existing building was radically altered with an expressive structure to create a sequence of living spaces and a large dining bay overlooking the Willbury hills. An extensively timber structure was used and the use of petroleum based insulation products was avoided. Internally planed Spruce beams and Iroko details are combined with a palette of warm birch plywood throughout. The budget was prioritised on low energy adaptations to the existing building in addition to large thermally efficient windows obtaining passive solar gain. The warm interior is contrasted with a dark clad exterior which relates to the timber detailing of tarred rural sheds that creates a foil for planting, with a reclaimed brick plinth, and sharp zinc rainwater goods. A sedum roof above is punctuated by large roof lights that draw light into the centre of the plan. The project was realised through a partnering arrangement with a local contractor, where the specification was developed on an open book basis, the contracting team became part of the design team and details evolved throughout the construction process. Working with an extremely modest budget and during a challenging period for construction, standard building elements and materials were elevated to express their special qualities and give the project its definition. This project aimed to demonstrate how an unpretentious, sustainable, but yet spatially luxurious outcome can be achieved with an ordinary brief and budget.


  • Begun: Aug 2022
  • Completed: Feb 2023
  • Floor area: 30m2
  • Sector: House
  • Total cost: £130,000
  • Funding: Private
  • Tender date: Aug 2022
  • Procurement: Traditional form of contract using JCT homeowner contract
  • CO2 Emissions: 20kg/m2/year
  • Address: Hitchin, SG4, United Kingdom

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