Maison Simon is the story of a young couple who bought a house in Bordeaux Bastide, boulevard Jules Simon, across the street from the first workers’ housing, established in the early twentieth century, not far from the social-housing area of Benauge.
Since its inception, the small one-story house, modest in materials and square footage, occupied the vacant lot sandwiched between two-stories stone townhouses. Because of the overpowering presence of the adjacent buildings, the extremely small scale, and the unusually deep front setback, the property always appeared quite disjointed from the extremely compact urban fabric surrounding it.
Moreover, the crushing effect was worsened by the fact that its ridge, perpendicular to the street, did not follow the organizing principle shared by all the other properties along boulevard Simon. A few years after purchasing the house, the couple came to the conclusion that they had no choice but to plan for an home addition.
At first, they consulted a design-build residential contractor hoping his practical approach would have delivered a viable and affordable solution to their problem. The contractor’s proposal, to simply overlay a wooden shed over the existing house, found soon strong objection from the local building department that not only rejected the plans but also strongly encouraged the homeowner to consult a licensed architect. That’s how we got hired. We proposed a very straightforward program: add three bedrooms, a bathroom, extend the first floor living space.
The site had many constraints. The maximum addition allowed was smaller than the existing building, flood hazard area: in case of a complete demolition of the existing first floor, the newly build first floor should have been established 4.5 feet higher than the former one. An unusually deep plot, with non-exploitable joint ownership, with very poor access because of the nature of the soil, the depth of the existing foundation would have not been able to support the load of a new second floor in order to give to the house the right presence on the block, a façade, aligned with the others, was definitely needed a very limited budget. The challenge was therefore to find a structure independent from the existing one - on which we could not rely – affordable with a look somewhat integrated with the surrounding urban fabric. Given all the constraints so far described, Script proposed a new second floor supported by a minimum number of posts, over the entire existing house and spanning across the entire lot. By doing so, we put in place an hybrid structure: four micro caissons supporting steel posts and a cantilevered floor, and wood-framing walls.
The new metallic skin, wrapping the entire volume, symbolizes the understanding, as a whole, of the existing and the new. It also generates a subtle relationship between the indoor and outdoor spaces because of its different grades of permeability. The front courtyard, serving as a buffer space, is protected from the street by a series of metal ribs aligned with the geometry of the corrugated metal of the floor immediately above. This layout strategy was crucial to achieve an homogeneous façade. It is also through the custom-made gate lock and the integrated letterbox that the synergy with the surrounding buildings is realized.
It is interesting how, by simply introducing the concept of the enveloping metaling skin, we were able to satisfy at once:
. the client’s request to design an addition with high performance but yet affordable
. the building department’s request to bring an architectural answer to an urban question
. our search for a plastic and affordable answer to the project program.
The design phase was very intense and fueled by the open-minded owners willing to take on risks such as the use of uncommon materials for single-family homes, or to allow a rough finish through some indoor spaces. These design solutions were made feasible by the outstanding motivation of all the contractors who never stopped believing in this challenging project.