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  • Davide di Martino

St Margarets: An Ode to Twickenham

Architecture and design represent a journey where the order and manner of examination are as crucial, if not more so, than technical skills. The value of the design process lies in its ability to bring people together, engage with multiple perspectives, and merge instinct with reasoning to uncover the right narrative and point of view. Our approach involves listening to each stakeholder, interpreting subtle signs, and balancing various influences to create innovative designs.

unagru architecture urbanism sandycombe lodge architecture residential

Being open to complexity and different points of view

unagru architecture urbanism sandycombe lodge architecture residential

At the centre of our focus, is client’s perspective, both as personalities and characters and as representatives of modern and future societies. We are curious about the creative potential of conversations about their conditions,, characters, habits, plans, and aspirations. These elements form the first marks of the complex conversation that is the project. Secondly as designers, we bring in our own experience, ideas, curiosity and aesthetics: in our case a passion for ambiguously fluid and open spaces, and dense of architectural experiences.

Design sketch for our project at St Margarets.

Next, we include the building itself in the conversation, exploring its geographical location, orientation, and physical presence. Our project in St. Margarets, involves examining how light and mood vary throughout the house based on its orientation. The context extends up to a kilometre, defining the local typology and feel. The context of our project is particularly fascinating as it lies at the boundary between the bucolic Twickenham Park and the noisy urbanisation south of St. Margaret’s Road. This area represents a transition from countryside to city, not just in terms of urbanisation but as a layering of functions over a powerful natural substrate and historical context. Our site stands as a threshold between these two systems, embodying the contrast between the natural and the urban, the quiet and the bustling, the historical and the modern. Finally, we consider the broader global environment and society. This last character asks us to take care of water and energy, support nature, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Our commitment to sustainability involves viewing the house from the soil up and the sky down, integrating sustainable practices from the ground up. This approach challenges us to preserve energy, reduce carbon emissions, and enhance biodiversity.

unagru architecture urbanism sandycombe lodge architecture residential

The land

We could describe this area as a progression of development, the transformation of the countryside into the city, not just as the rumble of urbanisation but as a layering of functions covering the powerful natural substrate and history of the area. Our focus will be on the park as the former Twickenham Park, with a few scattered prestigious buildings amidst growing urbanisation, but primarily as a natural environment with historical overlays like a noisy road station.

Finally, our site stands at the boundary between these two systems, the natural and the overland, the bucolic and the frenetic. The environment challenges us to preserve energy, reduce carbon dioxide consumption, and enhance biodiversity, urging us to view the house from the soil up and from the sky down, from the outside in.

The historical background of Twickenham, specifically the St. Margaret's area, is quite rich and diverse, covering several centuries. Here are some key points:

  • 17th and 18th Centuries: Twickenham became notable for its abundance of villas built for persons of fashion, starting in the 17th century. Notable residents included Francis Bacon in the late 16th century and Lucy, Countess of Bedford in the early 17th century. The area saw significant development of villas along the river and around the town. By 1723, Twickenham was remarked upon for its many elegant seats.

  • 18th Century: In the 1760s, the Duchess of Newcastle, one of the residents, managed a variety of mixed farming in the area. Later, Lord Frederick Cavendish acquired the estate and, upon his death in 1803, it passed to Sir William Abdy. Abdy divided the estate into lots for auction, and the southern section, including the mansion, was purchased by Francis Gosling of St Margarets. However, by 1809, Gosling had demolished the Twickenham Park House.

  • Marble Hill House: Built in 1724 for Henrietta Howard, mistress of King George II, Marble Hill House is a prime example of Palladian architecture and is set in 66 acres of parkland. It was a center for literary and artistic gatherings in the 18th century.

  • 19th Century: The area continued to develop in the 19th century, with JMW Turner and Charles Dickens among its notable residents. Significant housing developments occurred, including the transformation of large estates like Twickenham Park and Cambridge Park into residential buildings. The railway's arrival in Twickenham in 1848 was a key factor in this growth.

  • 19th and 20th Century Developments: By 1840, development within Twickenham Park began with the erection of substantial villas. The 1930s saw major housing development, and by 1950, most of the land was developed for housing. The area of Twickenham Park House was demolished in 1929, and the land was used for gravel excavation before being filled in for residential development in the early 1930s.

  • 20th Century Changes: Twickenham saw further changes in the 20th century, with large estates being broken up for smaller housing developments. The area experienced a shift from being a riverside retreat to a more residential and developed district. Over the century, with the central area largely built up, developers focused on areas like Whitton and began replacing large houses with more affordable properties.

  • Contemporary Twickenham: Today, St Margarets and Twickenham are known for their high employment levels and are popular with professional classes. The area has a mix of residential properties, including semi-detached houses and classical flats, especially near Twickenham Park. Local commerce is vibrant with shops, cafés, and bars, and the area has well-frequented local, independent businesses.

Sandycombe Lodge

(Left) Sandycombe Lodge, Villa of JMW Turner, engraved by WB Cooke.

(Right) Design sketch for Sandycombe Lodge, Twickenham, by JMW Turner.

Sandycombe Lodge, located in Twickenham, is a significant example of early 19th-century architecture with a fascinating history. It was designed and built by the renowned landscape painter J.M.W. Turner in 1813 as a country retreat and a home for his father, William Turner. The Lodge exemplifies Turner’s architectural aspirations and reflects his close friendship with the architect John Soane.

The House

unagru architecture urbanism sandycombe lodge architecture residential

The house has an interesting split quality; it faces St. Margaret's Road to the south, which entails noise and a bit of confusion but also brings light, brightness, and warmth. On the other side, it faces a quiet street lined with large trees, but being north, it's darker and cooler. An alley connects these two worlds, and the house itself is a threshold between them. Several buildings come to mind, like Strawberry Hill, the first half-Gothic, half-classical building in the Mediterranean culture, where two microclimates are used to create air movement and cool down living spaces. In Pompeii, living quarters were set far from the entrance, particularly areas dedicated to women, with the whole axis experience designed for privacy yet also showcasing the depth and size of the house.

This thought keeps nagging me: the house has two entrances, and one day there will be a small child, a buggy, and an instinct for protection that might lead to flipping the house's ancient experience from front to rear. Exiting the house would mean gradually adapting to an exterior world that is private, like a courtyard, and seeing a quiet street with shade, sunlight, birds chirping, and leaves filtering the light. The side alleys could become a threshold, a filter between the two worlds outside the house, hiding or collecting side entrances or accessories for a double life, like bicycles at the front and perhaps an entrance at the side. This double essence is perceivable inside, especially in terms of light, with the quality and intensity varying enormously between front and rear. On the ground floor, an open plan could allow for experiencing different degrees of brightness and tones of light.

unagru architecture urbanism sandycombe lodge architecture residential
unagru architecture urbanism sandycombe lodge architecture residential
unagru architecture urbanism sandycombe lodge architecture residential

Preliminary renderings of our project at St Margarets


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