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The Pavilion: An Insider's Tour with Architect Gianni Botsford

1st Dec 2020

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Almost a decade to complete, the Pavilion, also known as 'House in a Garden' is West London’s most renowned subterranean home. We spoke to the designer behind the award-winning home, architect Gianni Botsford, about the importance of light, its iconic copper roof and why he doesn’t believe in ‘style’.

The award-winning Pavilion or ‘House in a Garden’ needs little introduction. Widely recognised as a triumph of architectural planning, construction and innovation, it is a name that is synonymous with pioneering design within the industry.

Designed by renowned architect Gianni Botsford, the predominantly subterranean residence conducts a masterful interplay between light and dark throughout. Centred around the tent-like copper roof that undulates over the home and peaks in an open oculus, which tracks light movement across the day and over the seasons, this is a home of architectural brilliance.

Tucked away in the heart of Notting Hill, the Pavilion is found in the former garden of an imposing white stucco-fronted town house. In 2003 Gianni was living on the top floor of this house, overlooking the Pavilion’s predecessor, a neglected 1960s bungalow. Inspired to improve the space for the owners.

The result was quite unprecedented. Despite the unfavourable constraints of a boxed-in enclosure overshadowed by tall neighbouring buildings, through meticulous design and planning, Gianni created a remarkably private and meditative space, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of West London, with zen Japanese garden and swimming pool.

A benchmark for utopian architecture, the project took the best part of a decade from start to finish and has since won countless accolades. We took the rare opportunity to walk through the home with Gianni and learn about the design journey from start to finish.

Inside The Pavilion: Tour West London’s Award-Winning Home with Architect Gianni Botsford

Please can you tell us the story behind the project?

I was living in a home next door overlooking the garden where The Pavilion is now. At the time there was a dilapidated bungalow from the 1960’s, which set the precedent for there to be a ‘house in a garden’. This starting point drove the project forward, with the planners suggesting that we do something positive for the environment rather than the camouflage solution we had originally envisaged. From this the idea of a garden, the Pavilion evolved.

Was it easy to get planning permission?

Once we had an agreement on the concept from the planners, they were very supportive. We hoped that as it can’t be seen from the street there would be more flexibility with the planning permission, but we worked hard to ensure it worked contextually, not only formally but also through the use of materials.

How long did the project take you to complete?

It took around a decade to design, plan and construct. It was a very tight site, with many different parties and neighbours to satisfy and a double basement and highly complex roof structure to construct.

Who did you imagine living here when you were designing it?

We originally designed it with a small family in mind. It then evolved to something more personal for a single person or a couple, with very specific requirements almost like a tailored suit.

What influenced and inspired you during the design process?

Nature inspired us. We wanted to open the home up to the sky and to the garden that surrounded the house, yet make it feel totally private and isolated within a big city.

How would you describe the style of the architecture and interiors?

I don’t believe in style! It is what it is, but contemporary at every level.

A difficult choice, what is your favourite design feature or space in the home?

The roof is the feature that makes the house what it is, both internally and externally. It talks about setting out to achieve something highly specific, by bringing light into the house from a single optimal location and letting that dictate everything that followed.

It is such a striking focal point in the home. Please tell us more about how you came up with the design for the roof and how that evolved?

We started the design process by very carefully and forensically analysing the sunlight on the site using environmental software. This showed us where the optimal locations were for the garden areas and in turn the oculus skylight that links everything together. We essentially built the house in the areas which had the least available sunlight and then designed it to face outwards or upwards in the places with the highest levels of sunlight. The oculus is over 6m off the ground and positioned to catch sunlight throughout the day, as well as giving a clear view of the sky at all times. The form of the roof is generated by the oculus, the large plane tree, and the volume of the roof reduces as it approaches neighbouring buildings, to ensure it has minimal impact.

The expressed timber structure of triple curved glulam beams evolved over a long period of time to find a solution for the form that would be honest to its structural requirements but also comfortable to live with. Through extensive 3D computer and physical modelling, we were able to provide the manufacturers with digital models from which the specialist timber fabricators in Italy used to make the entire roof in their workshop. We then used a crane to position these pieces on the site in eight sections. The hardest part was probably finding the right manufacturer and this took a long time!

Although the majority of the home is subterranean, there is a remarkable amount of light in the property and the home offers a great interplay between light and dark. Was this a key focus for you when designing the property?

Yes, light was fundamental for all levels of the house. It makes the subterranean spaces into private spaces that are unique to London and the changing light makes the pavilion structure somewhere to spend time throughout the days and seasons. At the same time, the contrasts of light and dark throughout the house gives a rich variety of experiences.

The copper kitchen catches the light wonderfully. Please can you tell us more about its design and your inspiration.

The copper roof of the pavilion came first. We then realised that introducing a copper kitchen would both link it to the outside and create a warmth (especially when the sun hits it) that fuses with the timber floor and roof.

There is an evident flow of sensual textures and neutral tones throughout the house. Please could you give us more details about the materials you used and how they work together?

We created a simple plan for all of the inside and outside materials. The ‘inside spaces’ (living rooms and bedrooms) are all fully lined in Douglas Fir and the ‘outside spaces’ (bathrooms, swimming pool and courtyards) are lined in honed Carrara marble. All the built-in furniture elements are made from stainless steel or copper to reflect the light.

Which room or element of the house are you proudest of?

The Pavilion room (the living room) and timber roof make me proud!

Where would you want to spend most of your time if you were living here?

I’ve been surprised by how much I think I would be drawn down to the swimming pool and gallery space…but I would probably spend most of my time looking up through the skylight on the ground floor.

The Pavilion is for sale, for the full tour click here.

Read our interview with Gianni and architectural videographer Jim Stephens on their collaboration, Light Series, featuring The Pavilion here.