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McGonigle McGrath completes zinc-clad ‘House Lessans’ in Northern Ireland


The 235m² family home takes its precedent from the agricultural buildings of County Down

Belfast practice McGonigle McGrath has built a new family home on the remnants of an existing barn on a small farmstead. Taking inspiration from the low walls and sense of enclosure created by the original buildings on the site, the formal design of the house consists of two simple elements arranged adjacent to the retained barn.

The massing of the two blocks aims to visually and physically connect to the landscape beyond: one block contains only bedrooms and faces the arrival yard, while the other, primarily living space, is positioned perpendicularly and has been rotated 90 degrees to address the view. The entrance to the complex is positioned between the two blocks. Parallel to the two living blocks is the reused barn, creating a small courtyard in between that and the house.

Houselessans 10

The architect has designed simple pitched roofs clad in zinc, rising from a hidden concrete plinth, taking reference from the forms and materiality of local corrugated steel agricultural types. Masonry walls create courts and yards, looking back to the forms of the original farmstead. 

House Lessans won a 2019 RIBA National Award.

Houselessans 08

Architect’s view

The site is located in the gently rolling landscape of County Down. An existing assembly of barn and shed with double yard were the remnants of a small farmstead, the original farmhouse now a neighbouring plot. Approached by an overgrown lane, the enclosure created by the buildings and low walls only became apparent when at the yards, the predominant view from the lane being of the drumlins beyond.

The brief was for a simple dwelling to meet the accommodation needs of a semi-retired couple and their children, now only occasional visitors. The connection to place and to the language of the derelict but elegant barn was one of a number of defined objectives. Planning permission already existed for a new dwelling on the site.

The house is conceived as two simple elements arranged in relation to the retained and reused barn, to create the enclosure associated with vernacular clusters, and to permit visual and physical connections to the rolling landscape to the south and west. The first element, containing only bedrooms, is positioned to create the sloping arrival yard, and an enclosed space to the rear. The second living element is rotated to address the view. The entrance is positioned between these elements and allows the visitor the experience of both enclosure and landscape.

Forms and materiality are derived from the language of local corrugated agricultural outbuildings, referenced to the datum set by the barn, all rising from an embedded concrete plinth. Internally, generous volumes reflect the existing barn and track the external forms, and views to the landscape are carefully framed. Subtle shifts in level separate the functions.

Construction methods were necessarily basic, and detailing is precise and restrained.

Kieran McGonigle, director, McGonigle McGrath

Mm lessans plan

Project data 

Start on site November 2017
Completion April 2018
Gross internal floor area 235m²
Form of contract JCT Intermediate Contract
Construction cost £335,000
Construction cost per m² £1,425
Architect McGonigle McGrath
Client Private
Structural engineer MWL Consulting Engineers
QS MJ Donnelly Quantity Surveyors
Main contractor Hans Crosby 
CAD software used AutoCAD

Cast 1


Readers' comments (2)

  • Unusually high eaves lines for what appears to be a single storey house, and - with no cross sections - the interior views don't really show the effect where the roof forma the ceiling.

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  • The house is designed with care and a strong architectural parti which creates clusters and engages with the landscape. It's successful in plan form yet suspiciously affordable for vast amount of zinc cladding finish.
    However, don't follow the materiality mix and or the selection of the external colour- Its a hybrid- How that bottom half would weather, painting for ever, otherwise, it is going to look like the aged blockwork, while the top half will staying new and sharp. Hope your external walls stays white!

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