Butterfly House

The Main Character

A bereavement of a loved-one often leaves much to do and sort out and in the case of our client at the Butterfly House, it left several land assets that appeared useless beyond their existing use-class.  Losing a partner stirs the want to create something to remember them by, not necessarily a shrine or a memorial, but a celebration of their life.  Something that others can enjoy and something that embodies an important aspect of time together.

The Setting

The Butterfly House is located on the outskirts of Alresford near Colchester.  Sitting outside of the village settlement boundary, the project needed to be judged based on Open Countryside planning policy, also known as a Paragraph 79 house (previously Paragraph 55).  The field that our client hoped to call home was once filled with life.  Used as part of a seed production business, the plants were home to all manner of wildlife.  After the passing of our client’s partner, the business was closed, and the field was cut back to create a lifeless paddock.

The project had been kicked-off on the wrong foot.  A planning consultant that did not understand the requirements for a high-design scheme had submitted a scheme for multiple houses that did not respect the village or the site context.  This created animosity between our client and the neighbours, who believed any development of the site was bad profit-driven development, not an opportunity to create something special for generations to come.

The Challenge

The Local Authority, Tendering, needed to be on-side to ensure that the project was a success, and so early engagement with a good level of information to demonstrate the high-quality and exceptional nature of the project was required.  To ensure that expectations were not irresponsibly set high, it was important to ensure that our client understood that it was likely we would suffer one, if not two, failures at planning and there after we would need to ensure that our information and case were strong enough to succeed through the Planning Appeal process.

The Return

We developed a concept that was true to the previous use of the site.  In partnership with our client, the nature of what was important to her partner was captured and the concept of humans living in and amongst wildflowers and arthropods whilst encouraging their cultivation was born.  The property had to be designed to ‘leave no trace’ in the event of it being demolished and so a strategy of utilising inert materials that could be crushed into the ground instead of being transferred to landfill supported underpinning concept.

The building allowed the land and planting to flow over it.  A solid spine to the north protected the internal spaces from the busy road while creating a hidden entrance to the home and a clearly defined circulation route to navigate the linear plan.  This formation allowed every living space and bedroom to face out to the south with full height glazing the captured the views.  Solar shading prevents over heating in the summer months while the thermal mass helps to regulate the home temperature all year around.


It was important for the neighbouring residents to be able to see the property from the road.  There is no point designing something special to remember someone by if no one can see it.  So, we allowed and maintained glimpses of the spine wall set within the wild flower to encourage debate and conversation.  The careful and subtle landscaping avoided all forms of hard landscaping, including a solid drive, to allow the Gabion spine wall to sit neatly and clearly within its wildflower setting.

The Final Twist

Thanks to an exceptional and heartfelt concept supported by high-design and a high quality of supporting information, the planning team at Tendering District Council were able to support the application.  Despite one or two very anti-development objectors, the application was passed first time, with no onerous conditions.  The unwavering support and trust granted to us from the client was the foundation that we required to produce our best work, proof that all exceptional buildings come from exceptional clients.


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