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‘Built for multiple generations’: House of the Year winner revealed

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Caring Wood in Kent – a collaborative project by James Macdonald Wright and Niall Maxwell – has been named 2017 RIBA House of the Year

The 1,500m² country home, built for three generations of the same family, is constructed from locally sourced clay tiles and ragstone. It is inspired by traditional oast houses in the south-eastern county, and features a sculpted roof.

The carbon-neutral building was announced as the winner in the final episode of a four-part Channel 4 series Grand Designs: House of the Year.

The programme also revealed the final scheme to make the seven-strong shortlist: Coffey Architects’ Hidden House in London.

Also on the list were homes by Tonkin Liu, Birds Portchmouth Russum, MawsonKerr Architects, Ann Nisbet Studio, and Ström Architects.

RIBA president Ben Derbyshire described Caring Wood as a ‘house built for multiple generations’, which would inspire future housing in the UK.

‘This ambitious house explores new architectural methods, materials and crafts and allows us to question the future of housing and the concept of multigenerational living,’ he added. ’I’ve no doubt many of the ideas displayed at Caring Wood will influence UK housing for many years to come.’

Macdonald Wright of Macdonald Wright Architects credited the project with showing that ‘by joining together, small practices can do big things’.

Niall Maxwell of Rural Office for Architecture said that a ‘collaboration with many talented people enabled us to realise the design for this contemporary country house’, adding: ‘This [house] demonstrates what small practices are capable of when given the chance by enlightened clients.’

Houses on the shortlist were whittled down from a longlist of 20, including homes by Carmody Groarke, Lisa Shell Architects, Sandy Rendel Architects, A449 Architects, Barnett Architects, and Chris Dyson Architects.

The RIBA House of the Year is described by the institute as ‘the UK’s most prestigious award for a new house or extension’. Last year it was won by Richard Murphy’s own house in Edinburgh, which RIBA president Jane Duncan described as ‘part jigsaw puzzle and part Wallace and Gromit’. Other past winners include Skene Catling de la Peña for Flint House (2015), Loyn & Co for Stormy Castle (2014), and Carl Turner Architects for Slip House (2013).

Read the Caring Wood case study from AJ Specification

RIBA House of the Year winner: Caring Wood by James Macdonald Wright and Niall Maxwell

©heiko prigge caring wood

©heiko prigge caring wood

Source: Heiko Prigge

2017 RIBA House of the Year winner: Caring Wood in Kent by James Macdonald Wright and Niall Maxwell

Judges’ citation

This scheme is an ambitious project which seeks to re-envisage the “English country house” in the 21st century to meet the needs of three generations of the same family. The jury was impressed with how Macdonald Wright and Maxwell had manipulated space and scale to balance the need for grandeur with intimacy – from the soaring spaces of the piano nobile to the living spaces partially embedded in the hillside below. As a result they have created a house of over 1400 sqm which nevertheless feels like a home. The detail of how each space will be inhabited has been very carefully thought through.

Caring Wood engages in the dialogue of critical regionalism: the design of the house is modern but with clear links to the Kentish rural vernacular and local building traditions. Externally, the house uses the traditional oast house as a form generator - on entering, there is a framed view of a traditional oast in the distance. The house comprises four towers with an interlinking roof. This family of towers are sentry points in the landscape with distinct personalities. A conversation is set up both between the towers of the house itself and with those of the oast houses in the distant landscape, providing a tension to the overall composition.

The jury were also impressed with the quality of the build, the level of craftsmanship and the rigour of the pared-back palette of materials employed throughout. It is a composition of locally sourced handmade peg clay tiles, locally quarried ragstone and locally coppiced chestnut cladding. It is a rich, warm palette that ties the house to the Kent countryside and speaks of ‘place’. The towers together with the interlinking roof are clad solely in clay tiles, which the architect describes as a ‘tablecloth being draped over the terrain’. The simplicity of this visual device is very effective and the attention to detail in the way the roof is peeled away in places to acknowledge window soffits or other openings was a delight to see.

The quality of the internal environment both acoustically and in terms of how the daylight was manipulated is fantastic. The extensive landscaping surrounding the house is still in its infancy, yet there is already evidence as to how this will help to seamlessly connect the house to its setting, a year or two from now.

The house has excellent sustainable credentials. It provides a carbon neutral response to climate change. The form of the building was developed around a central courtyard with oast towers providing summer cooling by passive stack ventilation. Caring Wood’s sustainability is addressed through low energy design and the use of clean green technologies, and in the regional application of building form, material choices and detailing.

RIBA House of the Year shortlist

Hidden House by Coffey Architects 

Hidden house 1571 timothy soar pressimage 5

Hidden house 1571 timothy soar pressimage 5

Judges’ citation

Hidden House is situated on a small plot of land, on the site of a former caretaker’s shed in the Clerkenwell Conservation Area.  It is a one storey dwelling which sits above former prison vaults, once belonging to the Clerkenwell House of Detention, built in 1847.

This single-storey house originates from a rigorously scrutinised floor layout, engaging in a simple and elegant way with the constraints of the site. The interior of the building has been immaculately detailed with engaging clarity.  Bearing in mind that the building only has openings on its north-east and north-west elevations; the light, open feeling inside the space is achieved through its vaulted roof lights, which were precisely executed and helped to allow attractive diagonal views up to the adjoining school building. The simple palette of materials and polished concrete floor are particularly enjoyable.

The minimal, external elevations sit comfortably next to the school building, while also delivering an open and engaging corner within the sitting room. This building has been rigorously considered in its design and beautifully delivered in its construction.

The Quest by Ström Architects 

The quest 1330 martin gardner pressimage 2

The quest 1330 martin gardner pressimage 2

Source: Martin Gardner

The Quest by Ström Architects

Judges’ citation

Architect Magnus Ström created a very simple structural concept for the building. This is a single-storey dwelling for octogenarian clients and their disabled daughter. They wrote a two-page brief which they gave to the architects and said ‘Get on with it.’

The design has surpassed the aspirations of the client, providing flexible deep open-plan (8m deep) living in a warm and comfortable environment, with a fantastic view out to the south-west of their old farmhouse and the surrounding hills.

Extreme purity and intelligence have been at work and the result is an almost effortless sense of space with no split levels. There are solar panels discreetly placed on the roof with underfloor heating throughout the house, except the pantry which is snugly fitted into the rear of the kitchen plan and is a naturally cool space. The house is heated by combined heat and power (CHP) and an open log fire in the living area. The chimney stack neatly conceals the exchange unit as well as providing for the open fire, within a simple rectangular design. The floor of the main spaces is locally sourced Purbeck limestone and provides a good thermal mass in the winter and summer months, while the glazed facades maximise the natural light.

The house is built over an old quarry that was part of the farmhouse estate owned by the clients. During construction, structural challenges had to be overcome, as well as the discovery of a mine shaft that was not known previously known about, but this did not deter the clients from executing the design.

The low-lying home sits discreetly on the hillside, which was important given that it is visible from the nearby Durleston Country Park. The trees were kept on the site to ensure the house retained its green backdrop. Magnus’s work displays tenacity and vision, whilst producing a house that has clearly delighted his clients.

Newhouse of Auchengree by Ann Nisbet Studio 

Ann nisbet studio newhouse of auchengree (c) susan castillo hd

Ann nisbet studio newhouse of auchengree (c) susan castillo hd

Source: Susan Castillo

Newhouse of Auchengree by Ann Nisbet Studio

Judges’ citation

This contemporary farmhouse pays homage to the aesthetic of historic farm buildings in this part of North Ayrshire. On an elevation, commanding long views over the agricultural landscape, the building is a cluster of separate spaces, reflecting the way that rural buildings were developed and extended over decades past.

On this windswept site the cluster is composed carefully to create shelter and, in doing so, a captivating arrival sequence: the long drive up the hill set on axis with a pend that at first sight frames a view to the sky beyond and then leads to an entrance court. It is a composition that successfully controls the elements, captures views and mediates between the scale of the wider landscape and the intimate scale of the dwelling.

The main public spaces and bedrooms are set within a two-storey section with the master bedroom within a linear single-storey area and an annexe, accessed via the courtyard, offering a further two bedrooms. The whole composition clusters around a three-sided courtyard to the east and a sheltered terrace to the south-west.

The zinc external cladding reflects the light and cloud patterns of its elevated setting, which plays upon a building that is contemporary, contextual and in harmony with the light and life of its locale.

Born out of careful research into the unique vernacular of North Ayrshire this is a project with a strong sense of place – truly a building of its landscape.

Ness Point by Tonkin Liu 

Ness point 1429 nick guttridge pressimage 1

Ness point 1429 nick guttridge pressimage 1

Source: Nick Guttridge

Ness Point by Tonkin Liu

Judges’ citation

Ness Point has been designed as if it had grown out of the land in which it is embedded. With undulating thick walls along its length, it hunkers into the hill and is at one with the dramatic landscape of the White Cliffs of Dover. It goes further than respecting its setting, to really speaking of ‘place’.

The plan of the house, whilst modest in scale, very much describes a journey as you move through each floor with framed views which pull the landscape into the house. The orthogonal central walls serve as dividers for the various functions of the ground floor but do not meet the undulating external wall, so that you are able to weave through the series of rooms and there is the feeling of skirting along the side of a cliff face. There is an extremely sophisticated manipulation of space, whereby your eye is constantly pulled from one space to the next but each space nevertheless holds on to its own clear identity. As you reach the end of this spatial sequence and turn the corner (as in the prow of a ship), there is a space you can shelter from the weather (sea mist on the day we visited) that appears carved out of the rear of the plan.

Upstairs, the plan continues as an enfilade suite of bedrooms. Each room is orientated towards a different aspect of the landscape, across the passing ships of the English Channel to the cliffs known as Ness Point. The spaces are modest, the plan tight and every inch is put to good use. This house has been designed from the inside out. The driver is the emphasis on the interior activity and how each space is occupied. Each bedroom has a balcony no wider than half a metre, which gives a miniature, personalised garden to each bedroom. The interior detailing is beautiful and meticulous. This project benefits from a very successful collaboration between architect and interior designer which is much more than the sum of its parts. The interior catches the dynamism of the day’s changing light so that the building becomes a part of the larger canvas of ever-changing coastal weather. On the day we visited, when the site was shrouded in coastal mist, the play of light throughout the interior was very subtle.

This house is very difficult to photograph well by virtue of the aperspectival space with numerous vanishing points and the undulating plan. The interior delighted the jury and surprised us more than any of the other houses which were much truer to their photographs. This house pushes the idea of ‘organic functionalism’ – as you move through the plan you discover everywhere new space relations, shifting axes and carefully-considered interruptions that lead the eye into another direction.

6 Wood Lane by Birds Portchmouth Russum

6 wood lane 1355 magdalena pietrzyk pressimage 4

6 wood lane 1355 magdalena pietrzyk pressimage 4

Source: Magdalena Pietrzyk

6 Wood Lane by Birds Portchmouth Russum

Judges’ citation

Six Wood Lane is an exuberant and well-loved home, carefully crafted by its owners as a self-build project over more than seven years. Its idiosyncratic style connects each design aspect; from its curving form hovering above the street, to the detail of a chain-operated rooflight.

The architect’s ambition was to create a home for urban living, which contrasts tightly planned functional spaces with generous living spaces to maximise daylight and views. The building achieves this spatial contrast: a small entrance, tiny bathrooms and boat-like staircases, uncurl into connected living spaces, with views between areas in the house and out into the garden.

A slim store beneath the entrance seat perfectly sized for tennis racquets; a luminous green interior to the post box; a curved blue desk for making sculpture; a yellow floor beneath a quirky, zig-zag, glazed winter garden dome and a functional shed hidden in a cosy garden come together to create a surprising house that will engage and provoke debate for its occupants and visitors.

Shawm House by MawsonKerr Architects

Shawm house 1460 rob rhodes pressimage 1

Shawm House by MawsonKerr Architects

Source: Rob Rhodes

Shawm House by MawsonKerr Architects

Judges’ citation

It isn’t often that you visit a self-build or professionally procured house that is immaculately constructed, sensitively conceived and has heart and soul with which evokes an emotional connection.

Shawm house has a remarkable story. While living and working on the site, Richard Pender built the house to provide a more manageable home for his ageing parents. He has delivered a building that tells a story at every turn. You feel connected to the history of the Pender family, the historic farms and bastilles visible across the Northumbrian fells, and are provided with a wonderful series of carefully framed views of the rustic landscape.

Working in partnership with Dan Kerr, the project architect, Pender has developed from scratch an enviable understanding of construction methodology and technologies, new practical skills and an undeniably keen eye for detail. The building was constructed by Pender on site, in an existing barn where he structured a bespoke jig to enable him to create the building’s timber frame, before applying timber cladding to create a house that connects to immediate features such as an existing walled garden and also sits comfortably in the landscape context.

The project team has combined its knowledge of Passivhaus construction with an ethos for sustainable design, and aligned this approach to a strategy for using materials available on site and from local sources to conceive a truly sustainable, low-energy and low-impact proposition. The execution of this design is of the highest quality, the exceptional understanding of construction sequencing and co-ordination and tightness of details has led to an exceptional build quality delivered by hand.

Beyond the remarkable achievement of constructing this building with little support from professional contractors, Pender would not have been able to deliver the project without the practical knowledge and careful attention offered by the project architect, and the timely and thoughtful input from his parents. Kerr managed to retain an architectural vision whilst planning how Pender could build the structure himself while ensuring that his parents’ carefully considered needs were adequately accommodated. The level of consideration given to the construction process and interfaces between materials new and old is understated yet beautifully composed. Nothing is overstated, yet emphasis, legibility and clarity are given to each element with a balanced and pleasing weighting.

Shawm House will be a perfect home for Pender’s parents and is indeed one of Northumberland’s finest homes.

  • 4 Comments

Readers' comments (4)

  • Do I see Souto Moura's influence here? Check out the Casa das Estorias in Cascais dedicated to Paula Rego's work.....

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  • Do I see an outward leaning tile-hung wall, or is it a trick of perspective?

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  • An awful building- this will age very badly with its awkward detailing and bizarre geometry. Its clearly just had an endless budget from a wealthy client with no taste and this is the result, there are far better considered examples that haven't won due to the fact they didn't have a matching budget for the apparent 'wow' factor. Architecture and Grand Designs in a nutshell in the UK.

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  • Utterly dreadful design and totally irrelevant to the UK's housing need. One word sums it up - obscene. No small wonder the RIBA's application to the Grenfell Inquiry for 'core participant' status was turned down. The RIBA should be ashamed of itself.

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