The Latin word focus means ‘hearth’ or ‘fireplace’. In the scientific Latin of the 17th century, the word became used to refer to the point at which rays of light, heat or sound converge.

The hearth has historically been the symbolic warm core of a home. The language of stoves has developed to resemble architecture like shrines, emphasising the symbolic importance of these objects in the home. They are buildings in miniature, and often the individual tiles are architectural representations themselves, adding a third scale.

Historic masonry stoves, from the 15th to the 20th century all demonstrate a highly efficient, environmentally friendly heating system. These examples from Scandinavia, Transylvania, Hungary, Russia and England illustrate the different architectural qualities that emerge from a wide variety of different cladding materials and aesthetic treatments.

The Focus is a beautiful object in its own right. Where this form meets the outer skin, multiple levels and spatial conditions are generated. The stair wrapping around the form creates a variety of landing and ceiling heights leading to architectural complexity and richness, and a hierarchy of spaces from public to private. The central location of the Focus ensures it has a presence in each room of the building.

The principles of masonry heating have existed for millennia, going back to the Neoglacial and Neolithic periods, and were eventually developed into Roman Hypocausts, the Austrian/German Kachel- or Steinofens, ‘tile-’ or ‘stoneovens’, the Finnish kaakeliuuni, ‘tile oven’, Swedish kakelugn, ‘tile stove’ and the Chinese Kang ‘bed-stove’.


Clay and terracotta are extremely versatile, and a language of fine detail can be created through form-work, slip-casting or sculpting. A hierarchy of pattern languages will be developed for the cladding, including the possibility of ‘perforated screens’ for the main facades.

A collection of historic tiles illustrates the range of possibilities available: the Adapted Skin can be two or three dimensional; plain or patterned, matt or gloss with an infinite number of glazes. We would aim to produce an initial limited contemporary range that will expand over time. There is also the possibility of bespoke solutions and collaborations.


Historically rustication using stylized sculpted stone has been used to visually connect a building to the ground. It forms a formal transition from raw earth to refined articulation. ‘Vermiculated rustication’ means ‘worm eaten’. The sculpted detail provides shadow, depth and aesthetic interest.

Skene Catling de la Peña has been working with Factum Arte, maker of fine art and a foundation dedicated to the preservation of cultural heritage based in Madrid. Together they have developed a new language of vermiculated rustication based on the 3D virtual modelling of natural forms such as coral rock formations. These panels are CNC routed into limestone panels, from which moulds will be created and the slip cast clay tiles for construction will be made.


A number of materials of high thermal mass such as natural stone, clay and concrete can be used to clad the Focus: each has its own unique aesthetic effect. The Focus or core of the building has been designed more as product design than conventional architecture, meaning that all the complex components of the house are precision engineered and coordinated in advance. This process is closer to car design and will produce a much more refined object. This illustration shows the diagrammatic hierarchy of the cladding tiles: the same principles of a tripartite treatment will be used for both the Focus and the Adapted Skin.


The outer building ‘skin’ will allow easy adaptation to awkward site geometries. The walls are pre-fabricated cross laminated timber panels. The cladding is done on site. The tile modules are large for quick installation, but small enough to be handled by one person. The clay makes direct reference to the local London vernacular while developing a new and original language. The tripartite hierarchy relates the outer skin to the inner.