Responding to the context of site, availability of materials and labour and the vision of the end-user are standard starting points for designing a successful building to any scale and location.
When Lotte Glob, a Danish ceramic artist who has lived in the wild landscape of north-west Scottland for more than 35 years, wanted to build her own space that would allow her to integrate her practice, her business and her lifestyle, she talked to Gokay Deveci. She was clear from the start that she wanted her house to be not just affordable, but also as sensitive to context as possible.
For the past 10 years, working out of a research-based practice unit at the Scott Sutherland School in Aberdeen, Gokay Deveci has established a reputation for innovative, affordable, sustainable housing design. The outcome of his conversation with the artist was a compact, long, curved house inserted discreetly into a sloping landscape. Echoes of an agricultural barn allow the building to settle in as comfortably as any other of the cottages, crofts and sheds that sparsely dot the isolated mountainous terrain.
'It is a very romantic part of Scotland. The intensity of the landscape draws you in. It is a very beautiful but very hard place, with 100-mile-an-hour winds sweeping the landscape, ' explains Deveci. 'The building is about one person's life, about her interpretation of the outside, her relationship with nature.' The timber post-and-beam house, linear in plan under a curved roof with projecting balconies at each end, faces south to catch the light and afford magnificent views towards Ben Hope across Loch Eriboll. It provides a deliberately minimal double-height living, sleeping and eating space, which can also be used by Glob for exhibitions of her work. The flexible and adaptable building form accommodates the sloping ground, incorporating an undercroft which can also be used as additional outdoor exhibition space. Resistance to wind is provided by sheathed panels in the longitudinal direction and a combination of bolted joints, cross bracing and ties using galvanised-steel rods and sheathed panels laterally, all tied together by a rigid roof and floor.
Wind uplift is a serious problem. 'The building is exposed to the wild wind, which catches under it. There would be risk of damage if it was not so securely anchored into hefty concrete foundations, ' says Deveci. 'We counteracted uplift by bolting the structure to steel shoes cast into substantial foundations, each timber post standing in a 1m 3 block of concrete below ground level. Roof rafters are fixed securely to the main beams to resist uplift and damage to the roof. ' The design, developed by Deveci working with his assistant, architect Gary Smollet, includes local materials chosen to weather in colour and texture over time. External walls are clad in untreated Scottish oak shiplap boarding, designed to silver with age as the building settles over the seasons ever more harmoniously into its background. Equally important was the visual contrast and formal juxtaposition of the rough-sawn shiplap cladding, contrasting with the highly controlled precision of the highly engineered primary timber post structure itself. 'The frame of 200mm x 200mm laminated Siberian larch posts was chosen because it is one of the most durable woods there is. I was going for durability and accuracy, ' explains Deveci. 'The Siberian larch is kiln-dried but otherwise remains untreated, which means that it does not shrink or move, qualities which were really essential for the accuracy of the structural timber frame components. We needed to make sure there was a maximum accuracy in all the components.
Every column pair is a different size and all the columns arrived on site prefabricated and pre-drilled.' The front end of the house rises 3.5m on a pair of timber posts set 6m apart from ground to deck level, and then from the deck 4.5m to the curved roof. Six more pairs of posts continue back along the structure at stepped heights, placed at 3m centres along the 21m length of the house, with the back posts rising just 1.5m out of the ground.
The house is a case study in how to build in such a remote environment, using a local labour force more used to putting up masonry structures than timber constructions.
(In remote parts of the country like this, it is not unusual for contractors to perform many roles - and this project was no exception. The only local building contractor also doubled as the surrounding community's funeral director. ) Deveci's reasoning was clear. 'The idea is that a building like this can be pre-assembled and shipped out to any remote place and then built like Meccano. This is a building in a very remote part of the country, so we didn't want the joiners messing up on site. The idea is that the main bones of the structure are absolutely controlled. This meant that we could achieve absolute accuracy on site in the places where it really mattered.'
The timber post-and-beam structure was devised as an accurate, buildable kit of parts. All the prefabricated, timber-frame components arrived on site in one truck, wrapped for protection and numbered, and with the correct number of drill holes already in place. The builders were able to put the frame together quickly using a uniform 18mm stainless steel bolt connection at every joint.
'Construction was eased considerably by the standardised and prefabricated components, so even though the builder had not tackled anything remotely like this building before, he found that it was an easy structure to put up, ' says Deveci.
Sourcing laminated timber for the curved roof was tricky. Devici could not find a UK timber company able to shape Siberian larch into curved top sections of the required dimensions.
They needed to be 90mm wide and 360mm deep and to span 6m across the width of the house. The top sections were eventually supplied by a firm in Holland.
When it came to the green oak cladding, Deveci's authoritarian control evident in the frame itself disappears, replaced by the relaxed approach to buildings that develop their own organic form seen in the crofts of the highlands. He was happy for the green oak cladding elements to move and dry and shrink in their own natural manner. 'If it shrinks and moves, that is part of its character, ' he says.
The relaxed, natural forms of the green oak provide a comfortable contrast to the minimal, precision-driven accuracy that steered development of the rigid frame. The frame is exposed within the interior, its rigid presence given some architectural intervention to allow the solid frame to present as lightly as possible. 'The beams between the two upright column posts are tapered at each end, to add a degree of lightness to the minimal structure. If the ends had been left square they would have seemed heavy handed, ' says Deveci.
'Siberian larch has similar properties to oak but it is more elegant and silvery in appearance than green oak. The key for the durability of timber is in the detailing.' On the first floor, the balcony commands wide views of the loch and surrounding mountains, leading into the main double-height living space. The second floor at the rear contains the sleeping space and bathroom. The walls were created from prefabricated timber elements bolted between the frame posts, leaving spaces for the windows to be inserted along the side.
Insulation was then added, followed by a 20mm-thick layer of bitumen board and a breathable paper layer. Battens were then nailed in place to take the cladding of 24mm-thick locally sourced green oak shiplap planks.
Gokay Deveci's award-winning building drew a lot of media attention and has attracted a large number of visitors.
The architect and his team are currently engaged on another building project with Lotte Glob - a studio to be built next to her timber house, this time working entirely in stone. Whether Deveci can achieve the same degree of rugged elegance in that material remains to be seen.