The design of this rural house in Scotland was tuned to its rugged upland context, writes Graeme Laughlan of Raw Architecture Workshop. Photography by David Barbour
Over 2,000 years ago, the occupants of Skara Brae in Orkney used locally sourced materials to build partially submerged dwellings, providing thermal insulation and protection from the fierce climate. The weather definitely hasn’t improved, but for the most part the storm-battered structures remain intact.
Incorporating this principle, Raw Architecture Workshop has completed a new-build house on steeply sloping rough-grazing land at Camusdarach Sands, near the village of Morar in the Highlands. The clients, a young couple already living and working in this isolated location, were keen that our proposals captured the spectacular sunrise over the mountains and sunset behind the islands. Given the topography of the site, our early response was to locate the living spaces on the upper portion of the plot, with sleeping accommodation and entry level stacked below.
During our initial visit we pinpointed specific axes that would provide the best views from the site. These were translated into physical models and from this the symmetrical, splayed and cranked plan was derived. Similar forms were also explored in the section to reduce visual mass, significantly improve the field of view from opposite ends of the space and increase daylight levels, which are critical in midwinter around this line of latitude. In time, the wild grasses will regrow around the building to further reinforce the idea of a house built into, and not on top of, a hill.
Construction is low-tech, consisting of an exposed concrete base sitting beneath the more expressive timber-frame superstructure. There are clear distinctions in the internal arrangement of space and function across the three storeys, denoted by changes in light levels, scale of spaces, floor-to-ceiling heights and materials. Entrance at the lower level is into a darker, utilitarian concrete bunker. As you progress up through the building via the birch ply staircase, spaces enlarge, daylight levels and ceiling heights soar, and materials are characterised by a lighter finish.
The angular form of the house is reflected in the black-painted cedar internal door handles and handrail detail of the plywood balustrade.
We were conscious that a connection to the garden is critical for a rural house, and felt it was important to be able to step out of the main living spaces directly on to the landscape. This requirement controlled the balance between elevating the top floor sufficiently to see the islands, and keeping it low enough so that you are only three steps from the garden.
Environmental considerations vary in scale and type, from building position and orientation, local labour, skills and materials to the inclusion of an air-source heat pump and super insulation to provide a U-value of 0.15W/m2K to walls and roof.
The final external colour was much debated, and in the end black was chosen to tune into the characteristics of the peat, gorse and stormy skies. Perhaps, in a few years, we might try a deep red…
Graeme Laughlan, director, Raw Architecture Workshop