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Northern exposure

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Richard Murphy's house at Milldale, Aberdeenshire, is a combination of lightweight steel and solid masonry construction, designed to respond to northern climes Northern Scotland has winter nights that are 18 hours long; it also has June and July days which last almost all night. Richard Murphy Architects has designed a house at Milldale, a hamlet to the north of Aberdeen, using a structure which combines steel and traditional masonry construction to respond to these specific features of the northern environment.

The house looks over countryside, though it is a landscape of rolling fields rather than the dramatic mountain scenery more often associated with Scotland.Designed for a couple in their thirties, it sits at the southern end of a group of detached houses.

'I had a concept for a house with several agendas, ' says Richard Murphy. 'Firstly we wanted to design something which demonstrates how you might build in the Scottish countryside. You've seen how the lack of planning legislation has produced a rash of new bungalow development all along the coast of Ireland; we don't want those horrors repeated in the Scottish countryside.

'The next issue was cost; we wanted to design a house most people could afford.

The result is pretty reasonable - about £1,000 per m 2, not including some finishing work which was done by the client.

'But, most importantly, I wanted to achieve an environmentally conscious and, in particular, an energy-saving house which relates to the specific qualities of this northern part of Scotland.'

The house is single storey and divided into 'served' and 'servant' spaces by a circulation space that runs from east to west. The cellular servant spaces - boot room, main entrance, utility, kitchen, shower room and bathroom - are ranged on the north side.

They are of masonry construction; insulated cavity walls of blockwork rendered with white harling. The north wall, the public approach, is pierced only by the front door and a few small windows. The kitchen is at the centre of the house and opens out to a dining area with sliding glazed doors on the south wall. Bedrooms are to the east of this space, facing south, while on the west side a set of steps, following the contours of the site, leads down to a large living room, with sliding glazed doors opening to the south and west.

The roof reflects the plan; it is of standing-seam aluminium which overhangs the south, east and west elevation, propped on a series of tubular steel branched columns outside the walls, allowing a deep clerestory to run freely below it. The roof slopes back to a central gutter over the circulation space and rises again to shelter the 'servant' spaces along the north wall.

The disposition of windows on the south wall maximises solar gain and winter sunlight. During long winter nights the heat loss from the glazing is reduced by using sliding shutters.

'We went a bit mad on the shutters actually, ' admits Murphy, 'but for good reason.

Every window has one, including the clerestories, which have shutters which can be winched up and down.'

The building responds to its location by presenting a closed face to the north and a more open one to the south, with an oversailing roof

CREDITS

ARCHITECT Richard Murphy Architects: Richard Murphy, Peter Besley, Stewart Stevenson, Matt Bremner

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Pater Gallon

MAIN CONTRACTOR Ian Gardner SUPPLIERS standing-seam aluminium roof Kalzip

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