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Adjaye Associates

Mole House . London

Adjaye Associates . Mole House . London Ed Reeve afasia (1)

Adjaye Associates . photos: © Ed Reeve . + detail

Mole House is a three-storey live-work space in the heart of Hackney, designed as a single-family dwelling for contemporary artist Sue Webster. The project came together as an exercise in excavation and retention, with Webster’s vision for the new home being strongly tied to the history and fabric of the original building. The detached Victorian house was left vacant and derelict after a 40-year long tenancy, held by a resident locally referred to as the Hackney Mole Man. Known for having spent years burrowing a network of tunnels beneath the property, his decades of organic digging yielded a subterranean system of multi-directional passageways. With the quarrying having seriously compromised structural integrity, the house was eventually seized and excavated. Its burrows were plugged with aerated concrete to re-establish structural safety and over 33 tonnes of debris were removed from site. Webster was compelled by the potential of the standalone property, captivated by its accumulated layers of history – both architectural and social.

The resulting conversion celebrates the legacy of this unique site, preserving authenticity with new additions that clearly delineate from existing elements. The design is born from an archaeological exercise, a gradual reveal of time through the process of excavation – an unearthing of up to 2,000 tonnes of filler concrete revealing several years of fossilised domestic history.

The re-instated building occupies a triangular plot and has been expanded at basement level, offering newly configured open-plan living spaces, each surrounded by a sunken landscaped garden along its perimeter. There are multiple entrances to the house, a reflection of the unearthed tunnels beneath, two of these entrances are directly accessible from the driveway and Mortimer Road, one guides you to the lower ground floor studio and the other to the main house living space. There is also an entrance to the house via a set of steps that lead to the front garden and eventually to the studio and the rear garden. With this careful and methodical excavation, you can experience the uncovered pieces of history, moments of a previous time, that are exposed as you walk around the garden.
Externally, the original masonry fabric is preserved, with 15,000 reclaimed London bricks used to supplant areas of excess damage. The exterior render is retained, expressing the building’s derelict bunker-like appearance. New concrete bay windows bordered by patinated bronze frames protrude beneath a concrete band, slicing horizontally through height of the house.

Internally, a cross-shaped concrete structure in the centre of the plan divides each floor into four zones, supporting new floor slabs and bracing external walls. Original internal walls and floors have been removed completely, having either collapsed or eroded beyond repair. An existing party wall that once divided
the property into two houses has also been demolished, creating a more expansive, flexible, and unified space. Interior volumes are characterised by a minimal material palette of exposed concrete and timber, with a cantilevered staircase descending into a lofty, light-filled basement studio. The upper floor, which has been heavily reinforced following fire damage and corrosion, is punctured by a large, openable skylight. Natural light permeates throughout
the residence, filtering in through full-height windows and doors that line each storey. The building has been excavated to below street level, solidifying existing foundations and providing extended contemporary living space. A singular slate sheet replaces the building’s original gable-end pitched roof, providing material contrast with the external brick, whilst tonally conversing with the window and door frames, as well as the fencing introduced within the site’s landscaped garden.

Mole House demonstrates a combined vision between client and architect that exalts urban, tactile and personal histories. Its design approach is defined by considered restoration, material authenticity, and elevated functionality.
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La Mole House es un espacio para vivir y trabajar en el corazón de Hackney, diseñado como una vivienda unifamiliar para la artista Sue Webster. El proyecto se desarrolló como un ejercicio de excavación y retención, con la idea que tenía Webster para el nuevo hogar ligada a la historia y estructura del edificio original. La casa victoriana quedó vacía y abandonada después de un arrendamiento de 40 años a un residente conocido localmente como el “Hombre Topo” de Hackney, quien pasó años excavando una red de túneles debajo de la propiedad. Décadas de excavación orgánica produjeron un sistema subterráneo de pasillos en todas direcciones. Dado que las excavaciones habían comprometido seriamente la integridad estructural, la casa fue confiscada y excavada. Las madrigueras se llenaron con concreto para restablecer la seguridad estructural y se retiraron más de 33 toneladas de escombros del sitio. Webster se sintió atraída por el potencial de la propiedad y cautivada por sus capas acumuladas de historia, tanto arquitectónicas como sociales.

La reconversión celebra el legado de este sitio único, preservando su autenticidad con nuevas incorporaciones que delinean claramente los elementos existentes. El diseño nace de un ejercicio arqueológico, una revelación gradual del tiempo a través del proceso de excavación: el desenterramiento de hasta 2,000 toneladas de concreto de relleno que reveló varios años de historia doméstica fosilizada.

La construcción ocupa una parcela triangular, creciendo a nivel del sótano, y ofrece espacios de planta abierta, cada uno rodeado por un jardín hundido a lo largo de su perímetro. Hay múltiples entradas a la casa, reflejo de los túneles desenterrados. Gracias a la cuidadosa y metódica excavación se pueden experimentar las piezas descubiertas de la historia, momentos de un tiempo anterior, que se exponen mientras se camina por el jardín.

Al exterior se conserva la mampostería original, con 15,000 ladrillos recuperados de Londres y utilizados para suplantar áreas con daños excesivos. Se conserva la apariencia de búnker abandonado del edificio. Las nuevas ventanas de concreto, bordeadas por marcos de bronce patinado, sobresalen debajo de una trabe de concreto que corta horizontalmente la altura de la casa. Al interior, una estructura de concreto en forma de cruz divide cada piso en cuatro zonas y sirve como soporte de losas y refuerzo de muros. Las paredes internas y los pisos originales se han eliminado por completo, ya que no había posibilidad de reparación. El piso superior, que ha sido fuertemente reforzado tras sufrir daños por fuego y corrosión, está perforado por una gran claraboya. La luz natural llena toda la residencia, filtrándose a través de ventanas y puertas de altura completa que se alinean en cada piso. El edificio ha sido excavado por debajo del nivel de la calle, reforzando los cimientos existentes y ampliando el espacio de estar.

La Mole House demuestra una visión combinada entre cliente y arquitecto que exalta las historias urbanas, táctiles y personales. Su enfoque de diseño se define por la restauración cuidadosa, autenticidad material y gran funcionalidad.