Viewpoint | Selective insulation

An experiment in warm pockets

SELECTIVE INSULATION is an artist’s studio located in Hexham, UK. The project, which is a small insulated enclosure within a larger working space, is a response to the chilly working conditions in the Old School House, which is now an artist’s facility.

By Stephanie Davidson

In the Fall, Winter and early Spring, the uninsulated building, a masonry construction built in 1849, requires intensive heating to maintain an adequate level of thermal comfort. Although a central heating system was installed in the building in the 1970s, the heating costs are prohibitively high and the system is rarely used.
A conventional approach to improving the thermal efficiency would be to line the inside of the stone walls with a new layer of insulation. This approach would completely transform the interior appearance of the building, as well as losing all the potential benefits of the thermal mass in the stone and in so doing create an interior zone in which the warmth would be evenly distributed.
In this project, we asked the question, “Can insulating a building be more strategic? Can it have formal consequences? Can it organize space?” SELECTIVE INSULATION defines small areas in a building that need to be warm during the cold months of the year. The result is a series of warm ‘pockets’ within the existing uninsulated spaces of a building.
The form of the installation, which acts as a small warm room for sedentary or desk-related work, comes out of a set of parameters related to the functional program [i.e how the room is used.]

Required in the program of desk-related work are: A desk | Access to a window | A way to enter/exit

These three elements are positioned as structural anchors, and a connect-the-dots approach is used to create a framework for the volume. The 6.5sq.m interior is the minimum required desk-related working space for two people. Around the framework an insulating layer of double-ply bubble wrap, commonly used to insulate greenhouses, is wrapped, sealing the space thermally. The installation is positioned within a 66sq.m working space as a room within a room, providing temperature-specific spaces for different activities.
The structure was built in three days on a modest budget, using materials readily available at the local building supply shop in Hexham.

Stephanie Davidson is a Canadian architect who is a partner in Davidson Rafailidis architects in Berlin.
Other photos and drawings are available in
the print version of this article in SABmag issue 21.

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