AJ editors give their verdict on the first episode of Grand Designs: House of the Year which aired last night (4 November). The Channel 4 series continues every Wednesday until the winner is announced on 25 November
Will Hurst, deputy editor
The new Grand Designs: House of the Year series on Channel 4 certainly reflects the title in that it is ‘Grand Designs’ first and televised architecture award a distant second.
The first episode, which focused on country houses, closely follows the highly successful formula of Kevin McCloud’s long-running show. Viewers not paying close attention could well have missed the idea that there is a competition unfolding here, let alone notice the involvement of organiser RIBA. That’s only a partial criticism in that the formula works well, from its ‘looking through the keyhole’ vibe – what architect and judge Chris Loyn described in this episode as ‘nosing around’ – to its sweeping camera shots and McCloud’s familiar but authoritative summing up.
RIBA House of the Year
The programme briefly attempted to introduce viewers to what was formerly the Manser Medal but has now been rebranded for the man on the street – ‘the BAFTAs of residential architecture’ anyone? And then it was on to the houses, as McCloud and his journalist and architect co-presenters took us around a collection of one-off homes.
The utterly original Flint House in Buckinghamshire by Skene Catling de la Peña won a deserved place on the shortlist. But personally, I’d have liked to have seen Graham Bizley’s timber tour de force Dundon Passivhaus in Somerset progress rather than Wilkinson King Architects’ impressive-yet-somehow-undomestic Sussex House. What’s powerful about this show – just like any other Grand Designs – is how you just can’t help asking ‘would I want to live there’? Let’s hope they put it on Gogglebox!
Richard Waite, news editor
There is no doubt all five of the homes featured in last night’s programme were lovely, well thought out and well-crafted schemes. They’d have to be at least ‘good’ to get through the RIBA’s Regional Awards filter – the minimum threshold to even qualify for selection.
But, as my wife sitting next to me on the sofa sighed, ‘I don’t think we could afford any of them’.
The cheapest was the shipping container house which, after a quick Google because the budgets weren’t shown, appears to have come in at £100,000.
RIBA House of the Year
And that shows how far the award – formerly the Manser Medal – has shifted from its roots. Wasn’t the original aim to show housebuilders affordable and innovative alternatives to their bog-standard house types? Yesterday, cash was king.
I guess one-off houses on open plots in the country lend themselves to a certain scale and approach (and indeed massive flint walls that take four man-years to complete). But next week Kevin McCloud goes into the city. Perhaps we’ll see something in that programme to inspire a broader audience – and maybe they’ll make some of the more progressive housing developers think again.
Laura Mark, digital editor
Grand Designs: House of the Year is not a show for architects, nor is it really about them. Yes, architects will like it, but it is mainly consumer – aimed at those hoping to follow in the footsteps of the clients of the homes featured and take the plunge to build their own house.
In the first episode we saw five of the great homes longlisted for the RIBA House of the Year Award, all of which are located in the countryside. We see them through the eyes of their clients, architect Zac Monro, presenter Kevin McCloud and editor-in-chief of Elle Decoration, Michelle Ogundehin. But you have to listen hard to catch the name of the architect of many of the schemes – it’s mentioned – but in many cases after you’ve seen the building and heard from the client.
When watching the show at a preview at the RIBA on Monday night, I quizzed McCloud about the lack of focus on architects. He admitted: ‘Maybe we should have bigged up the architects’, while RIBA head of awards Tony Chapman also said: ‘They could have plugged the architects a bit more’. But Chapman added that it was ‘right to mention the client before the architect in the creation of a house’. I’d have liked to have seen more from the architects, but then I’m not your average Grand Designs viewer.
Like visiting a building, film and video change our perception of architecture. For those schemes we can’t easily visit, shows like this offer the chance to take a deeper look inside. When we revealed the videos of the Stirling-shortlisted projects on the AJ website, prominent architects told me that seeing the schemes on film changed their minds about which one they wanted to win.
RIBA House of the Year
I experienced something similar when I saw the footage of the Flint House. I’d previously only seen it in photographs, and despite being told by others how fantastic the project was, I remained unconvinced. But seeing it on this TV show changed my mind. It revealed the full scale of the ziggurat-shaped home and elements which I had not picked up on from photography. The craftsmanship in its flint walls and the way they change to chalk as you move up the facade are particularly interesting. Despite just two of the seven-strong shortlist having been revealed, I’d go as far as to say Flint House could win it.
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