I arranged to see Nithurst Farm, Adam Richards’s strange and brilliant house buried in a secret valley surrounded by woods just outside the park at Petworth.
Apparently, a balloonist fell down in the fields nearby and said that he always told people that it was the pumping station for Petworth. This is indeed its idiom: an abstracted form of industrial geometry; partly as if it was a classical survival with its deeply recessed Diocletian windows; partly based on Palladio in that its ground plan echoes the big central ground floor space of the Villa Maser, but is very slightly tapered, with rooms offset; and it is partly maybe also a subconscious – or conscious – homage to Vanbrugh as if it is a project which has strayed from Vanbrugh’s estate of abstract castellated buildings on a hill overlooking Greenwich (Richards himself references Vanbrugh’s garden tower at Claremont).
Richards was a student of Dalibor Vesely at Cambridge and the house is deeply influenced by a belief that architecture is not just a question of solving problems, but about the language of architectural form. This was apparently Vesely’s first lesson, as Vesely was a philosopher, teacher and engineer, interested in the poetry of architecture, its hermeneutics.
This is the approach from the hill above:-
This is a view of the garden façade, pure Aldo Rossi, with the windows of the garden room full height and asymmetric:-
Like Vanbrugh, it manages to be both miniature and monumental:-
This is the view of it as a tug boat, an analogy I didn’t initially recognise until I saw the model:-
It’s a rich project, but also quite simple, both at the same time, which is what makes it memorable.