Grand Designs: an invisible timber house and a once-crumbling Devon cattle barn have been shortlisted for House of the Year

·5-min read
 (David Barbour)
(David Barbour)

An invisible dwelling in the windswept wilderness and a once crumbling cattle barn have been shortlisted in the 2021 RIBA House of the Year competition.

The third episode of this sixth series aired tonight on Channel 4, as Grand Designs’ Kevin McCloud, assisted by writer Michelle Ogundehin and architect Damion Burrows, visited five more cutting-edge residential projects and whittled them down to two finalists.

The RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) competition and TV show has been running since 2013 with the long list entrants sorted into loose categories. This week was homes that solve problems.

They join four more finalists from the categories: homes that surprise and materials used in a new and beautiful way.

One of seven head turning homes shortlisted from these episodes will go on to be crowned the best home in Britain next week. Here are this week’s two winners and the projects they were up against.

Finalist: the house built on craggy rock

Mary-Arnold Forster Architects

The first winner of tonight’s programme was a home that defies the problems of building in the boggy, windswept wilderness of north west coastal Scotland.

Phil and Heather fell in love with the landscape on holiday in 2015 and hankered to live in the middle of nowhere.

When architect Mary-Arnold Forster first visited the site she smelt the ground to assess the landscape. “It is not my place to break ancient rock,” she says, so she knitted the light-touch house between two craggy headlines.

It rests on stilts on a thin strip of concrete with two bedrooms and an open plan living area, where the whole of one glazed side overlooks the sea from the cliff tops.

The charred timber-clad property is subtle and waterproof and was built in sections 70 miles away in a factory and transported by a lorry along an eight-mile single track road. In challenging weather conditions the construction team put it together in just four days.

It doesn’t get dark until 2am that far north, the couple explains, so in order to sleep they use a very unsophisticated method that has nothing to do with design: they now wear eye masks.

“It’s a masterclass to responding to its site and the most incredible thing is that it looks like it has always been there,” says Burrows.

Finalist: the barn that went from battered to beautiful

TYPE Studio

Tonight’s second winner was classified as respecting the integrity of an existing building – no matter how dilapidated that structure is.

Richard and Dawn glimpsed a crumbling cattle barn through the fog one day on a walk in Devon. The roof was missing, the tops of the walls were disintegrating and trees were growing up through what was left of the floor.

The Outfarm: an extraordinary conversion of a crumbling cattle barn in Devon (Rory Gardiner)
The Outfarm: an extraordinary conversion of a crumbling cattle barn in Devon (Rory Gardiner)

Their son Tom, a recently qualified architect, resurrected the barn while keeping the echoes of agriculture. He retained the original openings and resisted the urge to punch new doors and windows in the shell.

Downstairs where cattle would once have sheltered is now two bedrooms, a bathroom and a kitchen. Upstairs the old corn threshing level is an open plan living room with sycamore pods for the study and bathroom which can be moved, reused and change function.

Ogundehin says the preservation of the spirit of the old barn lifts the spirits today.

Runner up: a hidden house in Hove

Turner Works Architects

Property developer Paul, with his wife Maria, bought an infill plot in Hove in a dense housing area in order to build a 4,000 sq ft house and flog it. However, they soon realised they could build their dream forever home on the sloping backyard site instead.

But the challenge was to build it without compromising their neighbours’ view and their privacy.

If they had constructed a normal shaped house they would be been overlooked by nine other residences so they built a low slung U-shaped abode into the ground with a green roof and clad in a black brick cloak.

The living spaces wrap around a courtyard garden and a private pool area, which is meant to have a monastic sense of tranquility.

McCloud describes it as “good for the soul.”

Runner up: a flood fortress

John Pardey Architects

Living by a river is a dream for many of us, introduces McCloud, but the reality is that flooding can be brutal.

Consultant surgeon Tony and Charlotte, who works in the art world, bought a plot by the River Loddon in Berkshire. The house they built is a 50 metre building in shimmering silver larch on two metre steel stilts. It has three bedrooms, a kitchen, an open plan living and dining room, a study and a terrace. It’s a bungalow lifted off the ground.

“Until you live with flooding you don’t realise how fast flowing and aggressive the water is,” says Tony.

McCloud describes it as “a leggy supermodel of a house…that truly goes above and beyond.”

Runner up: a simple house on a “standard” budget

Tom Miller Architects

Doctor Aki and Jenny, who works in theatre, were looking to buy in expensive Cambridge and coming up short. Finally they found an infill plot and built their own bespoke house.

On a £200,000 budget the Japanese-influenced home, on a 1950s British housing estate, has a dramatic one-and-a-half storey hallway and detail such as gravel embedded in the concrete floor. Circular roof lights bring natural light into small spaces. The house is structured around two courtyard gardens with a master bedroom, open plan living space and a study that becomes a guest bedroom.

To save money and to achieve a minimalist, natural and functional look, the building materials are left on show, such as wooden roof trusses and the self-coloured white plaster.

The RIBA judges praised it for the strategic deployment of budget and for punching above its weight in terms of design.

To find out which house will be crowned Best House of 2021 by RIBA judges, tune into Channel 4 at 9pm Wednesday 8 December.

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