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Earth House

Office S&M has submitted designs in Rother for an off-grid new-build Paragraph 80 home, embedded in the landscape.

A family of three approached us to design a truly innovative and sustainable home. The proposed development is located on a 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 new home is part of a wider development of the estate, which includes a therapy centre and permaculture school which will operated by the family. The house is designed to enhance the sense of place of the family-run business, and the spaces are designed so that multiple uses can coexist: living, working, and gardening.

Historically, buildings in the Lower Rother Valley have used nature as a source of energy. The new house intends to continue this tradition, harnessing its energy from nature while creating minimal impact on the environment. Located on a sloping site, facing south, the single storey 190sqm 3-bedroom home takes advantage of the site’s resources to make the home entirely self-sufficient. At the same time by using passive design principles, a comfortable, low energy live/work environment is created.

The building takes a fabric first approach, and has been designed in close collaboration with engineers from the Low Carbon Trust to minimise the building’s carbon footprint. The house is orientated facing south for passive solar gain 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.

"The proposed dwelling would fall within a class of architecture that I would regard as exceptional."

Planning Inspector

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 itself. The tyres will be rendered with lime render pigmented with earth tones.  To ameliorate the incline in the slope, and reduce visual impact the house will be partially submerged into the landscape.

Food production is an integral part of the proposal, and 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 to water plants and flush toilets. 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 self 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