Ego-Free – Gianni Botsford Architects

“What makes our buildings and projects both original and notable is, we think, the absence of a statement, the lack of an ego, the way they fit into their culture, the economy and attention to detail of their design.” Gianni Botsford – director and head of design of Gianni Botsford Architects. 

Gianni Botsford was born in Venice, Italy in 1960. He originally studied Interior Design at Kingston University and worked for a number of practices in London. He completed his education at the Architectural Association, London with Professor John Frazer, before setting up Gianni Botsford Architects in 1996 which he continues to direct.  The recipient of numerous awards, he has also lectured in the UK, India, the USA, and Mexico on the work of the practice. His research work at the AA and subsequently with Arup into the optimisation of the control of natural light has been used throughout the projects the studio has built and developed.

House in a Garden, London, UK
To build with light and darkness is to work with a unique set of constraints and opportunities that lead to an architecture of local adaptation to the climate and culture that it sits within. With difficult circumstances on a tight, north facing urban site, digital tools of analysis were used to seek out three dimensional possibilities that light gives to generate
form and organisation.
Replacing a dilapidated bungalow built in the 1960’s in the back garden on an 1840’s Notting Hill villa, the house is on ground and two basement floors surrounded by gardens, light wells and skylights that control and distribute light throughout the various levels. Overshadowed by houses on three sides, and a large plane tree, the house distributes atmospheres and intensities of light that inform daily rituals and activities.

The GBA ethos is to work closely with a client to make sure the project fits into its surroundings and tallies with the client’s needs and desires. If an art gallery, the contents must be visible. If a house, the rooms must be liveable. If a school, it must be enjoyable as an environment. If a whole village, it should be where people would want to live.

GBA’s success is built on its individuality. It is not a mammoth practice in which teams of draftsmen work and execute someone else’s bidding. It is a small, private firm – extremely flexible – able to design and supervise construction anywhere in the world: from the prize-winning Light House in Notting Hill to the Lubetkin Prize winner for Casa KiKé in Costa Rica, from a whole village in the hills of Taiwan to ingenious solutions for a New York skyscraper, a museum in Estonia or a telephone center in Haiti.

There is an unity, or unities, among so much variety. All GBA projects are original solutions to particular problems of the surroundings, materials, and local traditions. They are all based on a thorough thinking-through of the available light, the weather, the disposition of their elements, of how to make the most out of any site, and for any purpose. We have worked alone or in partnerships, and as we look forward and expand our practice, we think increasingly of larger-scale public building projects: how they can be made to fit in their context while meeting our clients’ needs, how they can be local and humane while still being original, beautiful and apt.

The Villa Arcipelago 
‘When I started to think about this project I was struck by the rugged nature of the site. It seemed both entirely beautiful and somehow inhospitable. It was asking to be tamed.
I wanted the project to emerge from the site, and at the same time to be from Sardinia, to be Sardinian deep within itself. I felt it needed to be heavy and cool, almost carved from the ground, but also sheltering and expansive, a landscape to experience the climate, views and nature that surround it. I wanted it to be rooted to the topography and defined by the varying levels. I wanted to experience light and dark, wet and dry throughout the house. I wanted every room to have a view to the sea and for this to be the driving link to the Sardinia beyond – the Sardinia of islands and rocks, water and wind.
Filter House 
The proposal acts as a filter of its context, but also its varying programme. The layers of programme overlap and contract as required to provide public, semi public and private spaces. The louvres function not only to provide privacy and security, but also function as a filter to mitigate the hard urban environment and create a comfortable condition inside,
like having a forest around the building
Light House 
The site runs east-west and is overlooked and overshadowed on the south and west elevations. The key challenge was to maintain privacy while optimising light and sun.  
Our starting point was to represent the empty volume of the site as a 3D grid of data points, each with a range of varying attributes. Working with Structural Engineers Arup, a detailed environmental analysis for each individual point was carried out, producing a database of solar and daylight conditions throughout the year. In addition, weather patterns specific to London were incorporated and the resulting environmental data were analysed. 
As a result, the section became inverted, placing the bedrooms on the ground floor and the living spaces on the first floor. Terraces and gardens create internal courtyard volumes into which the surrounding spaces face. The inward looking nature of the site with the inverted section led to the development of a completely glazed roof which functions as an environmental moderator, filtering sunlight and daylight through
layers of transparency and opacity.
Award-winning Casa Kika in Costa Rica 
A main studio space, with library, writing desk and grand piano, is the writer’s daytime space. The pavilion’s wooden structure, sourced from local timber, sits on a simple foundation of wooden stilts on small concrete pad foundations. Roof beams of up to 10m long and 355 mm deep allow for an interior with no vertical columns. The mono-pitched roof elevates towards the sea shore, while the interior is ventilated via a louvred glazed façade.
Set at a short distance along a raised walkway, a second smaller pavilion mirrors the first. This contains sleeping quarters and a bathroom. Externally, the pavilions are clad in corrugated steel sheeting, another locally used construction material. The overall effect is of a building which blends with its surroundings, both visually and environmentally.
Palazzo in Venice
The project is to refurbish the piano nobile of a Palazzo, situated on the Grand Canal, Venice, Italy. In addition to uncovering the many frescos within the Palazzo and exposing its historic timber structure, the project also juxtaposes new architectural insertions against the Palazzo’s historic fabric. These insertions and their associated interior re-configuration aim to re-emphasise the spectacular views out of the Palazzo along the Grand Canal whilst at the same time improving the property to function as a family home.
Garden Apartment
Two single storey flats are converted into one duplex apartment with a central internal lightwell and garden. Living and sleeping spaces around the lightwell, visually connect them with the sky and one another. How to create a garden/outside space where planning constraints would not allow a roof terrace or balcony, was the dilemma. The answer came in the form of a central, enclosed garden of three levels that sits within the building, surrounded by the living spaces. Designed as an atrium, with a giant opening skylight, the 7 m by 2.5 m space is planted on the lowest “living” level; it includes a swing above; before breaking out onto a roof terrace. The space brings the outside in. It is a garden ascending through the house.

In the summer the skylight above the garden can retract to allow fresh air to flood into the property. A white steel stairway built within the atrium climbs from the main living areas to the bedrooms and then further up to the roof. The skylight is installed at this level. Below this we have installed a metal grid mezzanine, so, when the skylight is fully open, this access deck becomes an outdoor terrace. Open to the sky and bordered on all sides by the roof, it is a totally private space with fantastic views over London: high up and invisible from the road, most of the traffic noise is completely lost.
This is a tranquil outdoor space in the heart of the city.