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RIBA Awards winners 2014: Houses

Five houses have won RIBA National Awards this year - and the best houses are the ones that create unique living environments says Carl Turner

Houses are one of the few building types that anyone, of any age or background, can engage with (including architects). They are a very emotive subject and most people seem to have an opinion about what makes a good house.

As a designer, the difficulty comes with the fine dividing line between house and home: can we design homes, or do we design houses which become homes through occupation?

I would argue that the best (bespoke) houses are the ones that create unique living environments, capturing the eccentricities of those commissioning them and allowing a ‘through the keyhole’ view into the lives of others. In contrast, mass housing must by its nature house (or contain) a future unspecified collection of people and therefore often fails to capture the imagination in the same way.

So, to empathise with a new house perhaps one needs to be able to project one’s own life onto it’s interior, to imagine coming home and putting your key in the door, gazing into the fridge, running a bath, or any of the other everyday rituals we all perform. It probably also involves a degree of envy, however subliminal.
A great house must strike a balance between specificity and looseness. On one hand it must grab attention, scream ‘look at me, I’m different’, and yet somehow allow its inhabitants to occupy the space without feeling overwhelmed. There is an argument that a neutral interior allows the personal artefacts and possessions of people to provide the colour and ‘style’ reflecting the way they live their lives. Perhaps this also allows the interior to adapt as fashions change. The problem with highly bespoke and groundbreaking houses is that they are often difficult to adapt, and can become museum pieces.

Context is obviously a factor, be it ignored or acknowledged. A good home should adapt and change both daily and to the seasons. A house that allows retreat into a central cocoon during winter and expands into a semi-outdoor lifestyle for summer, accentuating it’s relationship to the weather and the time of year, must be a good thing. This brings me onto the subject of modesty, or size. Size does matter, and in my view the smaller the better. We live in a world under pressure, for space, materials and fuel (not to mention waste) and so an exemplar house would be a small house, minimising the use of precious resources. If I had to put a figure on it, then 250m² should be more than enough for anyone, no matter how large their wallet.

There is also the idea of continuity, the symbolic idea of home or shelter. How do homes of the future address this? Uniqueness versus the everyday. Is this expressed through form or craft? Maybe technology will make more of an impact in time. Perhaps we start with the kitchen table, the view from the bed or where you kick your shoes off. In my view a house that considers these elements and rituals is more likely to create a home than matters of style and taste alone.

Carl Turner, Director, Carl Turner Architects

Luker House, London by Jamie Fobert Architects

LukerHouse03OlivierHess_11995

This beautiful house is an essay in how to transform an unpromising site into something poetic and memorable. There is a self-build aspect, which means it will continue to develop, with an additional live or work unit and bedroom still to be fitted out. But what has been built stands by itself as a distinguished architectural proposition. With its simple brick exterior, refined windows, concrete and timber floors, concrete and plaster walls, the project expresses care and craftsmanship.

Client - Private
Contractor - REM Projects
Contract value - Undisclosed
Gross internal area - 328m²
Region - London West

House No7, Isle of Tiree by Denizen Works

House_No.7_by_Denizen_Works_dezeen_1

With its busy juxtaposition of forms and materials, House No 7 initially inspires a Marmite response. But mixed views among the jury turned to unanimous enthusiasm on greater engagement. Noteworthy are the quality of the detailing, the way in which materials have been selected and the house’s tactile pleasure, invoked by every simple activity, even just opening a door. This is a very considered design, and should be a candidate for the Manser Award. (AJ 07.03.14)

Client - Private
Contractor - John MacKinnon Builders
Contract value - Undisclosed
Gross internal area - 170m²
Region - Scotland

Red Bridge House, East Sussex by Smerin Architects

PrivateHouseEastSussex01TimCrocker7335_4789

A tour de force of structural gymnastics and ‘industrial’ materials has created a unique and well-appointed home. The house, with dramatically cantilevered box aligned with the view over a pond, does little to deflect or defer to the pastoral glade in which it lies. The northern entrance has a closed Cor-ten elevation through which a Cor-ten footbridge signals the entrance. The south elevation has an impressive double-height timber and glazed loggia. A compelling shared vision of client and architect.

Client - Private
Contractor - Client self-build
Contract value - £975,000
Gross internal area - 360m²
Region - South East

Cliff House, Isle of Skye by Dualchas Architects

1_Dualchas_Cliff_house_____Andrew_Nickolls

A deceptively simple response to a unique island setting. Combining both shelter and drama, it is both respectful of its location and a superb contemporary dwelling. The architecture is determinedly minimalist, with polished concrete floors and the exclusion of features such as skirtings or architraves. The architect’s intention was to concentrate the eye on the relationship between interior and exterior - the stunning view over Loch Dunvegan - and in this it has been entirely successful.

Client - Private
Contractor - James MacQueen Building Contractors
Contract value - Undisclosed
Gross internal area - 115m²
Region - Scotland

Lens House, London by Alison Brooks Architects

LensHouse08PaulRiddle_10173

A Victorian wreck transformed into a wonderful place to live and work, it is dramatic, light and welcoming, practical and well considered at every level. From the garden the extension resembles an object from another planet, with innovative use of Corian cladding emphasising a crystalline appearance. The geometry is a complex series of trapezoidal planes. While modest in size, the project is highly ambitious in its design intentions and is beautifully conceived and executed.

Client - Private
Contractor - Ebco
Contract value - Undisclosed
Gross internal area - 169m²
Region - London North

Readers' comments (4)

  • Some really inspirational and exciting projects here. Well done all.

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  • J Burden

    These houses are a delight. It's interesting to read Carl Turner's views on the importance of modesty and scale, especially after reading Tim Clark's current AJ article on 'shoe box' houses and the detrimental effects they have on their wellbeing of their occupants. If only there was a way to capture the imaginations of Berkeley, Bovis, Wimpey et al in order to bring some of the thoughtful qualities of these bespoke houses into mass housing estates.

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  • While I would not wish to do anything to take away from the quality of these designs, the reason that spec housebuilders don't do this is that research consistently demonstrates that about 80 percent of the public prefer traditional design. To risk vast sums to appeal to 20 percent of the buying public would be commercial madness; these firms are not aesthetic reformers, they are commercial organisations. There is nothing wrong with traditional design in any objective sense. So perhaps the awards should embrace traditional design as part of the mix, this is more likely to influence spec builders and improve their design standards. Unless it is felt that diversity in architecture is a bad thing, that the public are wrong and that traditional architecture should be banned.
    Robert Adam

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  • I have loved that Luker House for ages. Now I know the conbtractor! Thanks AJ & Carl!

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