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Earth House

Office S&M has submitted designs to Rother District Council for an off-grid new-build Paragraph 80 house embedded in the landscape.

A family of three approached Office S&M to design a truly innovative and sustainable home. The proposed development is located on the 3-acre site which was formerly occupied by stables on the rural edge of the village of Northiam in the Lower Rother Valley.

The proposed house is part of a wider development of the estate, masterplanned by Price-Whitehead Architects, which includes a therapy centre and permaculture school which will operated by the family. The design of the house will enhance the sense of place of the family-run business.  The spaces are designed so that multiple uses can coexist: living, working, gardening, preparing food, playing etc. Using passive design principles, a comfortable low energy live/work environment is created.

Located on a sloping site facing south, the single storey family 190sqm 3-bedroom home is sympathetic to the landscape and takes advantage of the site’s resources to make the house as self-sufficient and energy efficient as possible with minimal carbon footprint.

Historically buildings in the Lower Rother Valley have used nature as a source of energy. The house intends to continue this tradition, harnessing energy from nature while creating minimal impact on the environment.

The building takes a fabric first approach and has been designed in close collaboration with engineers from the Low Carbon Trust to maximise the site and minimise the building’s carbon footprint. The house is orientated facing south and equipped with solar panels to harness the sun; it will be naturally ventilated with openable rooflights; it will use its thermal mass and a high level of external insulation to minimise energy use; gray water will be collected and recycled. These strategies ensure that the house will heat and cool itself without reliance on electric heat or the burning fossil fuels or wood.

To ameliorate the incline in the slope and reduce visual impact the house will be partially submerged into the landscape.

The house will be built from recycled car tyres, in recognition that this waste product - millions of which end up in landfill each year - is a widely available natural resource. 1500 tyres (which equates to 13 tons of tyre waste) will be used in combination with rammed earth, excavated from the site. The tyres will be rendered with lime render pigmented with earth tones.

Designed to bring natural light into all corners of the plan, for the family to grow food in, treat grey water and maximise the potential of natural cross-ventilation.

Food production is an integral part of the proposal, the scheme includes an extensive timber structured glass house which runs the length of the south elevation providing 45sqm of space, for the family to grow their own produce. A coloured zinc sanding seam roof will be installed to harvest rainwater. The wider project includes the rewilding of the former paddocks and surrounding agricultural fields to improve biodiversity and new vegetable allotments which will be farmed using permaculture principles.

It is intended that the house will be built by the client - Anneli and Matthew Hukins - with the support and help of friends and craftspeople from the local community, as well as expert knowledge provided by engineers, consultants and members of the Low Carbon trust.

Every aspect of the project has been designed with resources and longevity in mind, following circular economy principles.

To read in more detail about how we transform the homes of our residential clients, please click here.


Location: Northiam, East Sussex
Project: Off-grid new-build house embedded in the landscape
Client: Anneli and Matthew Hukins
Completion: 2022


Architect: Office S&M 
Planning Consultant: Price Whitehead  
Masterplanner: Price Whitehead Architects