‘The Unfinished Finished Project’

Thoughts on purposely unfinished architecture by Anna Parker

Intentionally unfinished projects are increasing in popularity more than ever but, to achieve these aesthetics, designers actually have to work harder to achieve a minimal effortless look which has a contemporary feel.

Retaining a crumbling exposed brick wall, or patching in fresh plaster finish, leaving roof joists open within the space or unpolished concrete flooring may at first glance appear like a space with minimum design input. 

However, intensive time needs to be taken to source adequate matt sealants or prepare insulating under-layers, which then inform this new re-reading of modernism, hiding away the workings and efficiencies of the working building out of sight, and help the design to embrace the materiality and textures of construction materials and history.

This can also have a hugely positive sustainability aspect in retaining and reusing existing building fabric, and allowing a future re-use with a renewed sense of purpose and atmosphere.

The traces of building past, as well as an honesty of newly built elements, can be really celebrated using this approach, and it is something within my practice at Intervention Architecture that we are very keen on continuing in our designs.

Achieving this balance of finish is often a challenge to convince homeowners. Care must be taken to ensure that they gain an uplift of their living environment and secure new building efficiencies, but also retain a sense of how the spaces were once made in a romantic way. 

Visions within our studio are often curtailed to enable a couple of aspects of ‘unfinished’ architecture within a space, such as screed flooring (usually a sub-layer under a final floor finish) which can be sealed as the completed look, or exposing masonry walls. But, in many cases, we are contrasting this with newly plastered partitions and painted surfaces for new layouts or ways which further intensify the older revealed surface, and it is this which defines the character of the home.

This juxtaposition within a project of the exposure of construction layers, almost ruins, with crisp newly introduced elements is seen similarly in many other practices and work we admire.

Emil Eve Architects within their project at Charlotte Road have retained original exposed brick walls and timber structures, whilst inserting new partitions and metal framed punchy glazing and coloured glazed brick edgings, thus creating a new language of build originating from the existing traces.

Similarly, CAN’s project Mountain View includes ruin-like jaggedly cut existing brick walling to express where the building edge once was, giving a feeling of breaking through into newly designed space in a framed way that nods to the home’s previous life.

Anna Parker, Intervention Architecture