The chance to develop a contemporary country home in Cambridge
Set in rural seclusion between Weston Green and West Wratting, Mines Park is not so much a house on the market as a project for sale.
Planning permission has been acquired for a contemporary country house in a commanding position within a new 100-acre landscaped park in the heart of the Cambridgeshire countryside – but it has yet to be built.
As well as consent for the seven-bedroom, 13,000 sq ft main house, for £1.5million the buyer will get consent for two staff cottages, a barn and 50 acres of land, with a further 50 acres available for purchase.
The scheme for Mines Park – the name of the settlement which had a house on the site from around 1100 until the 19th century – revisits the issue of the country house in the context of 21st-century life, land use, architecture and, most importantly, climate change.
The house will have views across ancient woodlands and fields, and will be surrounded by 50 acres of new woodland, which, with two lakes, will offer a new picturesque landscape in the 18th-century tradition while also providing a working ecological system of water recycling, biodiversity and biomass fuel – making it one of the most sustainable homes in the UK.
A large meadow in front of the house falls towards the lake. There is a walled garden with a greenhouse – which also hides a family garden – an orchard and a secret leisure garden.
The property itself is a contemporary reinterpretation of a traditional timber-framed manor house – with luxuries such as an indoor swimming pool, spa, gym, wine cellar and cinema thrown in.
The property will be a model of sustainability and modern design, with high ceilings and a double-height main sitting room, hallway and master bedroom.
It will be built using an exposed oak structure infilled with hempcrete, used to reverse the damaging effects of greenhouse gases by locking up harmful CO2 emissions within the wall construction, thereby reducing the development’s carbon footprint.
The layout is flexible and can be adjusted to suit particular needs – such as a large family or a valuable art collection – and the materials which will be used to build the house will ensure it stays warm in winter and cool in summer.
The man behind this ambitious undertaking is landowner and farmer Henry d’Abo.
“The concept was thought out by me, and then what we did was to have an architect competition for the best design,” he explained.
The winning design was by Tom Emerson, who co-founded his 6a Architects practice in London in 2001. Its recent projects include Raven Row, a contemporary art gallery in Spitalfields, east London, which won a RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Award in 2011 and was nominated for the prestigious Stirling Prize.
Mr d’Abo said: “The idea came from wanting to have a completely sustainable building. So, for example, we’ll be reusing a lot of the material that comes out of the bottom of blast furnaces in the special concrete, which we intend to use on the inside. This gives the concrete rather an amazing colour and an attractive finish quite similar to marble.
“We’ll be using wood as a primary heating source and will be growing all of it in the park that surrounds the house. We have also worked out a rather wonderful scheme so that we can reuse all the water, using a system of reed bed cleaning and then separating and pumping the clean water into another lake and reusing that.
“The only thing really that we would ever be bringing to the site is electricity,” said Mr d’Abo. “It’s something we could make ourselves, but it’s not really viable from a financial point of view.
“Mines Park would be probably the first Level 5 large house to be built in this country – possibly the most significant house to be built here since the Second World War. There are very few big houses that have been built using these kinds of systems and relying wholly on these specific types of technologies.”
Mr d’Abo originally intended Mines Park to be for a family he knew, but that has fallen through due to unforeseen circumstances. He is therefore looking for a buyer to purchase the land and build the house to the exact specifications already laid out. Not just any buyer, mind, but one who is as enthusiastic about the design and the overall concept as he is.
“I’ve been trying to look for a suitable buyer who would want to build this kind of thing,” he said, “and I guess if I don’t find one soon, the likely outcome would be that I would probably build it myself and then sell it.”
Mr d’Abo’s background is not specifically related to residential design, and he is therefore justifiably proud of his work on Mines Park, a project which is estimated to take about two years to complete once work has begun.
“What I’ve designed is, I think, something which will be very special,” he observed, “because the site demands something very special – it’s a beautiful spot.”
The project is being hailed by critics as a model for 21st-century architecture in terms of design, comfort, landscape and ecology.
Jock Lloyd-Jones, of Jackson-Stops & Staff, said: “With this region continuing to prosper, inevitably accompanied by a rise in property values, this provides an extremely rare opportunity for a shrewd developer or owner-occupier to build a substantial house with cottages and a barn in a beautiful valley 20 minutes from Cambridge.”