Project of the Week: SPE House, Spéracèdes, France, Ellena Mehl Architects
Is there a more evocative spot of countryside than the French Riviera? Characterised by its gorgeous Mediterranean climate, rolling hills and luscious greenery, France’s southern reaches are nestled with tiny structures that seamlessly blend into this serene location.
SPE House, an extension of a pre-existing manor, is one of these buildings. It is nestled in a snug site at the end of a road in a hamlet, Spéracèdes, typical of Provence. Terraced gardens and stone walls, known across the south of France as “restanques”, shape the context of this conurbation, following horizontal lines and gentle hillocks.
The main house itself has been built on the side of a hill. And, while Spéracèdes has been inhabited since before the 19th century, due to the discovery of a local spring, it was built just forty years ago. Even so, it shares the same design DNA as the more traditional structures it neighbours: rectangular, compact, and symmetrical, with a stone-framed entrance, small windows and terracotta tiles.
Located next to the manor, though, is SPE House – a building that breaks with classic Provençal design. It sits betwixt the central home, and one of the charming restanques, becoming a new intersection at the site and a fresh feature on the landscape. It is actually buried into the hillside, forging a permanent connection with the countryside of the French Riviera.
Ellena Mehl Architects, a French studio led by the award-winning duo Hervé Ellena and Stéphanie Mehl, is behind this extension project, which effectively fuses residential construction with smart landscaping over three intersecting planes: glass, stone, and grass.
Glazing dominates SPE House’s front-facing façade. It takes the form of a double glazed wall, replacing one entire side of the structure with a wide sheet, affording incredible views of the French Riviera’s stunning vistas. Externally, toughened 10mm glass forms the first double glazing layer, while conventional glass forms the second, internal layer.
The glazing also serves another function; this time more thematic. It adds a modernist feel to an area dominated by more traditional forms, finishes, and techniques. Despite this, it is not overwhelming, and works alongside the more historic building elements and nearby architecture to form a very pleasing whole.
The extension features a grass roof, allowing it to subtly blend in with the existing topography of the site. Indeed, the wedge-like shape of the building means it integrates successfully with SPE House’s hill-side locale, almost a geographical feature in its own right.
Stone rounds off this trio of planes by forming the remaining walls as a further way of intertwining this modern extension into the traditional architecture of surrounding structures. Dry stone, arranged to mimic the hamlet’s centuries-old walls and boundary markers, clad exterior walls, forming a contextual link with both the site’s historical building techniques and rustic aesthetics.
Building this extension into a hillside not only provides that thematic and contextual connection, but it also holds further practical functions too. Choosing to employ a wide glazed façade with its half-buried setting means climate control is optimised year round. Even in an area where temperatures rarely dip below 7°C (45°F), keeping temperature levels comfortable is a year-round concern, made easier through Ellena Mehl’s architectural choices.
Inside, visitors can find a number of functionalities. There is enough space, 120 square metres over two levels, to squeeze in a landscape-facing master bedroom, dressing room, bathroom, and a basement connected to the main houses’ kitchen, featuring two cellars, a solar heating room, and boiler. This crafty underground linkage keeps the exteriors of both SPE House and its setting clean and crisp, allowing thematic elements to shine through.
Overall, SPE House is a project that slots in neatly with its surroundings while simultaneously breathing a touch of modernism into its site without overwhelming the historic context. By paying attention to the geography of the site, and traditional building techniques, Ellena Mehl Architects has proposed a structure that possesses the spirit of Provence and has become its own regional landmark – the ideal Project of the Week.
Images: © Hervé Ellena
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