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Achieving the Perfect Balance

The art of simplicity in architectural design is not just something that happens as a welcome coincidence but a motivational force at CSA Architects. 

“I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that something can feel ‘just right.’ Think about Goldilocks: it’s not too big or too small, not showy or too open and stark. It shouldn’t feel like it’s trying too hard. It should look ‘simple’, like it was meant to be that way.” These are the words of Dan Meek, director and architect at CSA Architects. His area of specialism is in providing high-quality, design-led architecture, creating bespoke, site-specific solutions across Cornwall. Dedicated to exceeding his clients’ aspirations, he has successfully completed projects ranging from small domestic extensions to large residential schemes. The success of CSA Architects on delivering upon these promises would suggest that Dan knows what he’s talking about.

As every designer in any field knows, this notion of making something look ‘simple’, even when it requires immense effort and skill, is a cornerstone of effective design. It’s what Antoine de Saint Exupéry, the famous French writer said, that ‘perfect design is achieved when there is nothing left to take away!’, or Lindon Leader, the creator of the FedEx logo, ‘I strive for two things in design: simplicity and clarity. Great design is born of those two things.’

It’s a philosophy that guided one of Dan’s favourite projects, a house that embodies simplicity and elegance. It was driven by a clear vision and the client’s determination to achieve it. This clarity of purpose, combined with skilled execution, resulted in a modest and beautiful home by the sea at Perranuthnoe. When a home achieves balance, it enhances the appreciation of its surroundings, the view, and the quality of life within its walls.

To bring this about CSA Architects critically assessed the client’s aspirations and objectives, marrying them up to the site and its surroundings. Their approach was both collaborative and immersive. At CSA Architects the project director remains involved throughout the process, ensuring open and honest communication. This iterative approach, fuelled by a spirit of inquiry, was applied from the initial concept sketches all the way through to the technical detailing of elements like window reveals. It allowed them to align closely with their client’s vision and adapt to evolving circumstances without losing sight of the project’s core objectives. This transparency fostered trust and ensured that the final outcome resonated with the client’s initial aspirations. This continuous refinement helped in achieving a design that looks effortlessly simple but is the result of an accumulation of numerous conversations and refinements.

The house in question was Morlais, a property that acts as an exemplar for CSA Architects’ philosophy. The layout is a simple linear form, with bedrooms and living spaces oriented towards the sea view, while functional spaces like the stairwell and bathrooms are positioned at the rear. Its design maximises the aesthetic and functional value of the site.

Initially, CSA Architects’ design proposals featured an angular roof form to control heat gain and allow passive ventilation, reflecting the client’s sustainable aspirations. However, due to planning requirements, this evolved into a simple pitched roof form. This change, while seemingly a compromise, actually enhanced the simplicity and efficiency of the design. A smaller, straightforward building form is inherently more efficient and sustainable than a complex one.

In Cornwall, where the house is located, robust materials that weather well are essential. CSA Architects selected natural slate for the roof, natural stone for the walls, and Shou Sugi Ban (burnt wood) cladding. These materials are not only durable but also contribute to the building’s aesthetic appeal and its harmony with the environment.

Architecture isn’t just about creating buildings; it’s about creating places where life happens. It’s not about making a statement just to be seen but about enhancing the lived experience. For instance, the simple pleasure of sitting and reading a book in a window seat is a testament to thoughtful design.

Dan takes up the story, “I believe the best way to illustrate the success of this project is through the words of our clients, Alison and Jonathan Hull. Their feedback reflects the ultimate goal of our design philosophy – “We love our building, both its simple, tasteful good looks and how easy it is to live well in. We love the way it settles into the landscape, making a quiet statement without being ostentatious or showy.” As the new occupants enjoy their home from the upstairs terrace or the bedroom window seat, their satisfaction and the way they describe their home confirm that CSA Architects has achieved what it set out to do – create a home that feels ‘just right.’

This project illustrates that simplicity in design is not about minimalism for its own sake but about creating spaces that enhance life, resonate with their environment and feel effortlessly perfect. As the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor says, “Architecture has its own realm. It has a special physical relationship with life. I do not think of it primarily as either a message or symbol, but as an envelope and background for life which goes on in and around it, a sensitive container for the rhythm of footsteps on the floor, for the concentration of work, for the silence of sleep.”

For CSA Architects, Morlais sheds light upon their approach, encouraging others to embrace simplicity in design for a better way of living.


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