In 2009 the client purchased an existing ruin in the South Downs and held an architectural competition for a new family house. Their brief sought tranquil yet playful spaces, local natural textures, contrasts, in a home that was not obvious and optimized the beautiful landscape views.

Gross Internal floor area including double garage – 650 sq.metres
Form of contract / procurement route – Client Lead Construction Management Client – Chris and Becky Taee
Energy / Thermal Performance – Annual co2 emissions – 40.6 (kg/m2).

Project Team List;

Architect – Birds Portchmouth Russum Architects,
Andrew Birds, Richard Portchmouth, Michael Russum,
Adam Johnson, Mickey Kloihofer, Nina Shen-Pobete, Linda Hagberg, John Cook Structural Engineer – Techniker
Environmental Consultant – Mott McDonald Fulcrum Landscape Design – Farrer Huxley Associates Lighting Design – Cullens Lighting
Quantity Surveyor – Project Technique
Main Contractor – Christopher Taee, Construction Manager Project management – Project Technique
Photography – Nick Kane

Downley House By Birds Portchmouth Russum Architects - Sheet5
©Nick Kane

Architectural Composition

The design is in the genre of English country houses enjoying an unfolding sequence of spaces and views and composed of simple geometric forms nestling within the landscape. A promenade is established which reveals changing experiences of the arcadian surroundings: It commences at the circular arrival court, extends via an oak pergola through the inner garden court, in which the ruin stands as a romantic verdant folly, to the cylindrical entrance hall. The internal circulation flows from the entrance hall and guest wing stair along the entrance façade and across the ‘Foudre’ dining hall from where staircase leads to the roof garden. This enjoys a panoramic view of the valley and bridges to the hillside to complete the promenade into the landscape.

Downley House By Birds Portchmouth Russum Architects - Sheet6
©Nick Kane

The house has a family wing and guest wing which are by a large barrel inspired dining hall ‘The Foudre’. It is aligned on the ruin entrance with fully opening glazing connecting the inner entrance court to an informal south facing sunken terrace. Two cylindrical towers, placed symmetrically either side of the Foudre, contain the entrance and primary staircase.

Planning Constraints

Downley House is located within the South Downs National Park. An earlier proposal to refurbish the ruin was approved in June 2007. The new house was set back from the ruin to screen it from neighbours and planning consent was granted in May 2010.

Downley House By Birds Portchmouth Russum Architects - Sheet8
©Nick Kane

Method of Construction and Materials

Construction commenced with the concrete ground slab and retaining walls. Cross laminated timber (CLT) wall and floor panels formed the main structure of the house and were pre- fabricated in Switzerland and craned into place over a six week period. This innovative sustainable construction enabled the full envelope to be quickly sealed to facilitate internal fitting out. The guest and family wings used flat CLT panels, lined with insulation and clad with either local stone, timber or render. The ‘Foudre’ is a structural shell of curved CLT panels on laminated timber ribs which was overlaid with insulation and copper roofing.


Downley House By Birds Portchmouth Russum Architects - Sheet9
©Nick Kane

The house employs natural and locally sourced materials, a prefabricated timber structure and sophisticated environmental strategy to create a very low energy home. A combination of high insulation with good air sealing, earth tubes, mechanical ventilation with heat recovery and a ground source heat pump array planted beneath a wild flower meadow ensured it comfortably exceeded Passive House standards. No additional heating energy was required last winter.


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