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Stirling Prize: The inside story of Outhouse

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Chris Loyn explains the concept, layout and materials of Outhouse


It was spring 2010 when Michael and Jean contacted us to discuss the design of a new low-impact, low-energy, single-storey, live-work house. They had 1.6ha in the Forest of Dean, an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The site comprised a south-facing sloping upper and lower meadow, subdivided by a central level plateau, with three existing buildings: a small extended two-storey traditional house and two single-storey outbuildings, none of which had architectural merit.

Loyn & Co was selected from a shortlist of architects and appointed to undertake the project. The concept we arrived at was to use the existing structures, allowing them, or the memory of them, to discipline the new house’s layout. This gave relevance to the new building by responding to and respecting its history, integrating old with new, past with present.

The idea was to remove the roofs of the original buildings, leaving ‘open containers’. New accommodation was then arranged around these shells and the upper meadow roof extended over, but leaving the insides of the old structures as external courtyards within the new building – hence the name given to the project, Inside Outside House, later shortened to Outhouse in the interests of brevity.

Each of the four courtyards – three formed from the ‘shells’ of the original buildings, plus one new one – were to serve different functions. The new courtyard contained a grassed sitting area, the Earth Courtyard; the footprint of the retained outbuilding became the naturally ventilated larder, the Air Courtyard; the original house, the Fire Courtyard, was for barbecuing; and finally the old garage contained a pond, the Water Courtyard – four elements for an environmentally responsible house. 

In the planning of Outhouse, a key east-west axis, an extension of the original retained driveway, bisects the scheme, creating a ‘gallery street’ where the clients show their work. To the north are the studios, hunkered into the hill. Not dark spaces, both have substantial roof glazing and their own outside space. To the south is living accommodation, the main bedrooms and an open-plan living/kitchen/dining space, with forest views stretching out down the Wye Valley towards the Severn.

Once the idea of an earth shelter was established, our tectonic approach to design determined reinforced concrete as the principal structural material, exposed generally both internally and externally. Black pigmented concrete was used to define the courtyards, and along the external walkway, imprints of meadow plants provide a poetic connection between building and landscape. 

On the roof, soil and meadow planting set aside at the start of work has been reinstated, creating the seamless junction with the upper field.

External timber cladding used for non-structural infill panels is scorched instead of painted to preserve it, giving a depth of tone and soft natural finish.

This project was made with a massive amount of trust, friendship and co-operation from all involved. Michael, Jean and others have said you can feel this within the house. They are settled.

Ground floor plan

Drawings loyn ground

Drawings loyn ground


Drawings loyn section

Drawings loyn section


Drawings loyn axo

Drawings loyn axo

East and west elevations

Drawings loyn east west elevation

Drawings loyn east west elevation

South elevation

Drawings loyn south elevation

Drawings loyn south elevation

The materials we used


  1. Concrete wearing screed impressed with ferns from the meadow adjacent to site
  2. Charred softwood timber cladding
  3. Bluestone Tumbled Marble supplied by Mandarin Stone
  4. Concrete with Midnight through-colour pigment by Articimo Colour
  5. Concrete roof plan model illustrating the four courtyards: Earth (grass), Fire (charred timber), Water and Air. Glass, representing the triple-glazed rooflights, by Clear Living

Project data

Start on site May 2013
Completion December 2014
Gross internal floor area 490m²
Form of contract Design and Build 
Construction cost Undisclosed 
Architect Loyn & Co
Client Private
Structural engineer WL2
M&E consultant Vitec
Quantity surveyor Moseley Partnership
Landscape architect Morgan Henshaw
Approved building inspector Meridian Consult
Main contractor Forest Eco Systems 
CAD software used AutoCAD

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