Architects: ZONE Architects
Photography: Paul Zanre
Location: Edinburgh, UK
The Old Schoolyard is a new villa in a conservation area just west of Edinburgh’s city centre. The site is an undeveloped plot within an area of grand villas laid out in the early 1900s. The plot had previously been a garden and tennis court before becoming a playground attached to the neighbouring house which had been used as a private school. ZONE Architects converted this to three flats in 2009.
The site is located within one of the most desirable areas of Edinburgh, quiet and secluded but yet within easy walking distance of the city centre, the Dean Valley and Murrayfield. Surrounded by grand houses of mostly later Victorian and Edwardian era, facing a green and leafy crescent, with a slope of nearly one storey and the potential for a south facing garden, the site presented a rare opportunity to create an exceptional contemporary house in an established historic setting. Initially designed in 2008, the project survived a lull of two years and then a change of client. The two clients who took the project forward were committed to creating a high quality home as well as well as a significant architectural contribution to this marvellous setting.
ZONE Architects’ ambition was to create a contemporary home which matched the scale and grandeur of its neighbours, particularly the late-Victorian villa to the west. Sited with an open, semi-public front garden which directly addresses the street, the building creates a meaningful relationship with both its immediate neighbours and the wider locale. The stone cubic form of the house has been conceptually distorted and then split to allow light deep into the stairwell at the centre of the plan and down to the north facing front door on the lower ground floor. A starting point for imagining the form of the building was the recollection of the scale, weight and effort of extraction of a large block of hewn stone fresh from a quarry, a recollection of the tradition and history of stone quarrying essential to the construction of much of Edinburgh.
The south side of the building opens out to embrace the private garden to the rear with large areas of glazing – transparent walls – in contrast to the deliberately framed windows to the north. The design of the windows is part of an environmental strategy to maximise the south facing glazing as well as a conscious effort to differentiate the experience of the various rooms and spaces within. The framed windows to the street create a distance between the occupant and the world whilst the glazed walls to the rear are an invitation to move between the space of the garden and the home.
Internally the accommodation is spread over three floors with service/garage/swimming pool on the lower ground level, living spaces and rooms on the ground, garden level, and four bedrooms on the upper level. A variety of both open plan and cellular rooms is offered, as a reflection of the complexities and changing needs of contemporary family life.
Over the past ten years, and primarily through the practice of making buildings, ZONE Architects have developed an expertise in identifying, responding to and reconfiguring the potential of difficult urban and landscape sites, and in constructing an appropriate architectural language- inventive, intelligent detailing of conventional materials- often in the context of heritage design guidelines and codes. ZONE architects aim to make contemporary, resilient, beautiful dwellings and public places which acknowledge the lived-in domestic and collective histories of their immediate and wider contexts. Working with elevated public rooms, scales of stone, deep light, fissures of circulation , an aim is to continue to construct and consolidate material and spatial thinking which informs the creation of delightful everyday experience.