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FIRST LOOK

Stepped-section house in the Scottish Borders completed by TAP Architects

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The low-cost project, built in a clearing among dense woodland, steps its section, following the terrain and avoiding extensive root systems of surrounding trees

The house, by TAP Architects, is sited in a small hamlet five miles from the market town of Lauder in the agricultural landscape of the Scottish Borders. It has been built on a sloping site bounded to the north side by a fast-flowing burn and to the south by a narrow road.

Similar to other houses in the hamlet, it occupies a clearing between areas of dense woodland. Externally the building is clad in black-stained larch cladding on a light-coloured concrete-block plinth.

Tap pyatshaw garden view

Tap pyatshaw garden view

Its plan is arranged over five levels, with accommodation leading off the spine of a linear hallway on the western side. This culminates in a wedge-shaped living space at the highest ground-floor level.  

The house has underfloor heating and uses an air-source heat pump. 

Tap pyatshaw hallway 1

Tap pyatshaw hallway 1

Architect’s view

The initial challenge was finding an area large enough to locate the house. Flood risk in the flatter areas adjacent to the river made development impossible, while higher up, steep slopes and bands of high-quality, protected trees occupied a large proportion of the site. We identified an area towards the western side of the site just large enough to locate a new house, which, although overgrown, had no trees of any maturity.

The extensive root systems of the adjacent trees, as well as a very constrained budget, ruled out using large-scale retaining structures and suggested that the internal levels of the house should follow the terrain. 

The budget also meant that a simple building form was desirable, however the sloping topography and irregular tree locations required a more complex massing and construction strategy. In resolving these issues, a design was developed that is absolutely particular to this site.

Tap pyatshaw living room 3

Tap pyatshaw living room 3

The main architectural move was to place a linear, stepped and glazed hallway on the west side of the house, providing access to the multiple levels of bedroom and bathroom accommodation to the east. This ascending route contains steps, doorways and places to sit, and ends in the lofty living-space with long views opening up to the west, animated by shifting, tree-filtered light.

The use of a conventional, principal contractor was unaffordable so, instead, a local project manager was appointed who would co-ordinate the works on site. Separate trades contractors were then individually appointed by the client, minimising overhead and management costs. This approach, combined with the use of cost-effective forms of construction and repurposed materials for flooring and many fixtures and fittings, allowed for the very low budget to be achieved.

Neil Taylor, director, TAP Architects

Tap woodland house section 2

Tap woodland house section 2

Project data

Start on site June 2018
Completion May 2019, (landscaping autumn 2019)
Gross internal floor area 145m2
Form of contract or procurement route SBCC Minor Works Contracts, placed with individual trades.
Construction cost £198,000 + £12,000 utilities connections
Construction cost per m2 1,365
Architect TAP Architects
Client Paula Megson
Structural engineer McColl Associates
Project manager Ian Middlemiss
CAD software used Autocad
Annual CO2 emissions 18.53kgCO2/m2

Tap woodland house detail section

Tap woodland house detail section

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