Architects deliberately left a hole in the roof of this extraordinary rear extension

The massive opening in the middle highlights rainfall and allows rain to collect in a shallow, reflective pool below.

modern house
(Image credit: Edmund Sumner)

A Grade II-listed Georgian townhouse in Clerkenwell hides a strikingly unusual two-storey rear extension.

Designed by architecture studio Tonkin Liu, the new extension serves as both a studio for the practice and a home for the partners’ family.

modern house

(Image credit: Edmund Sumner)

REAR - BEFORE

Tonkin Liu's founders Anna Liu and Mike Tonkin worked to find a better use for their property's narrow back garden, hoping to create a work area at ground level as well as increase the living space in the existing basement.

modern house

(Image credit: Edmund Sumner)

REAR - AFTER

The extraordinary new extension leaves a massive opening in the middle to highlight rainfall and allow rain to collect in a shallow pool below.

modern house

(Image credit: Edmund Sumner)

modern house

(Image credit: Edmund Sumner)

Rainwater gathered at the top of the townhouse falls through a pipe and follows the roof’s curved edge to a spout over a long rainwater harvesting tank. The tank floods the patio at the push of a button, transforming it into a reflecting pool.

modern house

(Image credit: Alex Peacock)

The perimeter walls of the rear courtyard support a plywood roof, curved in plan and section to allow maximum light into a patio garden.

modern house

(Image credit: Edmund Sumner)

modern house

(Image credit: Edmund Sumner)

The roof’s thin 110mm structural shell is an insulated stressed-skin, joined by round coffered skylights that echo the wave pattern of raindrops landing in the pool.

modern house

(Image credit: Edmund Sumner)

modern house

(Image credit: Edmund Sumner)

Animated by both sunshine and rain, the new extension creates a tranquil setting for the homeowners, and also incorporates a serene garden terrace. 

The architects tell us: "It is a good place to be on a bad day."

modern house

(Image credit: Edmund Sumner)

The basement was also extended and now accommodates a bedroom, two new bathrooms and a large, plant-filled light-well.

modern house

(Image credit: Edmund Sumner)

modern house

(Image credit: Edmund Sumner)

modern house

(Image credit: Edmund Sumner)

modern house

(Image credit: Edmund Sumner)

At the bottom of the garden, under the concave roof, a garden room offers a living space for the home and a meeting space for the studio.

A mirrored wall in the covered outdoor area conceals a workshop, cooking area, tool shed, store, and deep planter for the small trees in the green roof above.

modern house

(Image credit: Edmund Sumner)

modern house

(Image credit: Edmund Sumner)

Being able to design something for themselves, they used the opportunity to test out radical new ideas that they may not have been able to try out on clients.

It enabled the couple to test new ideas through prototypes and non-traditional construction methods, and to build an innovative and testing piece of architecture for a modest budget.

modern house

(Image credit: Edmund Sumner)

modern house

(Image credit: Edmund Sumner)

Their brave and innovative design has won numerous awards, including a RIBA award in 2017 and first prize for the Don’t Move, Improve! awards in 2018.

Lotte Brouwer
Lotte Brouwer

Lotte is the Digital Editor for Livingetc, and has been with the website since its launch. She has a background in online journalism and writing for SEO, with previous editor roles at Good Living, Good Housekeeping, Country & Townhouse, and BBC Good Food among others, as well as her own successful interiors blog. When she's not busy writing or tracking analytics, she's doing up houses, two of which have features in interior design magazines. She's just finished doing up her house in Wimbledon, and is eyeing up Bath for her next project.