Interview Sarah Wigglesworth eco home

Interview: Sarah Wigglesworth

Interview: Sarah Wigglesworth

Architect Sarah Wigglesworth is a pioneer in creating design that is not only beautiful and striking but also makes it easier to follow a more sustainable lifestyle…

With projects including Kingston’s dramatic new Go Cycle Hub, which builds upon the town’s goal to encourage more people on to bikes; a tree-top classroom and a number of residential eco homes, Sarah Wiggleworth’s architectural practice is paving the way for how we can live in a manner that is more mindful of the planet, our communities and surroundings.

Sarah designed her home and co-working space, Stock Orchard Street, which she is opening up to public view as part of London Open House on 17 September. It was built 22 years ago and has been much praised for its eco credentials and innovative use of materials such as straw bales for insulation, sandbags to reduce noise and recycled concrete. The result is stunning. “I love its spaciousness, its sensuousness, its loftiness, its different spaces that can respond to every mood, its relationship with nature…” Sarah tells us.

The house is on a site formerly occupied by a working forge. Before that, it had been used for cattle pens as well as market gardens. The idea was to restore it to a place in which multiple uses easily coexist – for work, living and even keeping hens. The dining table doubles as the conference table, a larder is cooled by a heavy conical chimney, a roof meadow stabilises the temperature inside, and a reedbed and pond purify greywater from the kitchen and bathroom.

In 2019, it underwent further eco measures, resulting in a 62% reduction of its annual carbon dioxide emissions, as well as the addition of a carer’s suite to address the anticipated needs she and her partner Jeremy Till will have as they age so they can stay in the house for as long as possible.

Sarah explains the changes: “We made improvements to the building fabric to create a warmer, less drafty and generally more comfortable environment, which is also healthier. We also replaced the mechanical systems that were reaching the end of their life, such as the boiler and mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR). These moves also save us energy. Everyone understands how important this is now.”

“I would like to believe that after the past couple of years, particularly with this summer’s heatwave and drought, we are finally waking up to the climate crisis being real. But many people don’t understand what this means and how they can make a difference. It is essential to change the narrative from negativity to positivity. However, we will have to give up something to gain something. Want safer, less polluted streets? Stop using your car and start walking and cycling! You’ll meet people, slow down, enjoy the fresh air and exercise.”

Images: Kingston Go Cycle Hub: (c) ё Buro Happold / Sarah’s stunning eco house: (c) Ivan Jones

The Go Cycle Hub at Kingston railway station was designed with this new approach to our lifestyles. The cycle hub provides a space for repairs, bike parking, cycle hire and a cafe rest stop, and a new pedestrian and cycle bridge connects the station to the river.

“The hub is an example of how buildings can help support and inspire new models of mobility, integrating self-propelled and public transport which could be adorning our cities,” she says.

She hopes that we will all take a look at our lifestyles in a holistic way: “Reduce your meat-eating to almost zero, shop fresh and organic and support farmers to farm sustainably. Shop locally and support the independent services in your neighbourhood. Fly only once a year. Travel by train and bus. Enjoy the journey.”

As to making your home more sustainable, she says: “Get a competent architect, do your research, and try to understand your building’s physics. Engage in the process and expect to work hard to make it work. Insulate your home and make it air-tight, ensuring it has good controlled ventilation. Support those that are arguing for insulating Britain on your behalf. Enjoy, with satisfaction, the change in lifestyle you will experience afterwards.”

  • See the house as part of Open House 2022 on Saturday 17 September. Each tour will last approximately one and half hours and start at 10.30am, 1.30pm and 3.30pm. Visitors will also get the chance to see portions of the previously postponed SWA25 exhibition – a celebration of 25 years of Sarah Wigglesworth Architects which had to be put on hold due to the pandemic. ​The exhibition will consist of artwork by individual practice members responding artistically to their favourite SWA project.