Skene Catling de la Peña’s ziggurat-like house for the Rothschild family has been crowned RIBA House of the Year
Flint house was revealed as the winner of the coveted award - formerly the Manser Medal - in the final episode of Grand Designs: House of the Year tonight (25 November).
Described by the judges as a ‘marvel of geological evolution and construction’, the home is set in the flint-layered fields of the Rothschild estate at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire.
Skene Catling de la Peña’s building rises out of the landscape and forms the main house and an additional smaller annexe.
It is constructed of masonry with flint cladding which gradually changes to chalk as it reaches the top of the building.
The house saw off competition from Levring House in central London by Jamie Fobert Architects, McGonigle McGrath’s House at Maghera, vPPR’s Vaulted House, Kew House by Piercy & Co, Wilkinson King’s Sussex House and WT Architecture’s house in the Scottish Borders.
The judges were Jonathan Manser of the Manser Practice, Duggan Morris’s Mary Duggan, 2014 Manser Medal winner Chris Loyn of Loyn & Co, James Standen of awards sponsor Hiscox and RIBA head of awards Tony Chapman.
Commenting on the award, RIBA president Jane Duncan said: ‘The shortlist for the RIBA’s House of the Year represents a remarkable diversity of architectural skills and outcomes.
‘Although superbly original and unique, it continues a fine tradition of RIBA award-winning houses that provide exemplars for others: architects, clients and developers. Congratulations to all involved.’
The RIBA House of the Year Award replaced the institute’s long-established Manser Medal. Along with the new name came primetime television coverage.
The four-part Grand Designs series, fronted by Kevin McCloud, brought the houses, their architects and clients into the public eye and saw the prize reach a greater audience than ever before. The first show attracted 2.2 million viewers.
Flint House, Buckinghamshire, by Skene Catling de la Peña
The house sits within the grounds of a wider estate and forms accommodation for visitors who include family members as well as artists. The building is split into two parts: the main house plus an annexe. The building is constructed of masonry with flint cladding. The project is a rare example of a poetic narrative whose realisation remains true to the original concept. The site is on a seam of flint geology and is surrounded by ploughed fields where the flint sits on the surface. The building is conceived as a piece of that geology thrusting up through the flat landscape. The innovation and beauty of the scheme is particularly evident in the detail of the cladding that starts at the base as knapped flint and slowly changes in construction and texture until it becomes chalk blocks at the highest point. This gives both a feeling of varying geological strata with the building dissolving as it reaches to the sky. The architects worked with a number of specialist and skilled craftsmen to achieve the end result. The development is part of a wider artistic project that has involved engagement with artists, photographers and musicians.
Internally the spaces carefully frame the landscape and provide a rich sequence of spaces including a small rivulet of water that snakes under part of the main house. Given the nature of the client and the brief, one might suggest that the project was able to push boundaries that many architects and clients would not be able to. But conversely, patronage has often been crucial in allowing the development of the arts and architecture. The building is an example of an innovative piece of architecture that suggests a typology for the one-off house that is not an object in the landscape but is of the landscape; yet is not so deferential to nature, that it isn’t challenging, dramatic, and most of all poetic. Flint House stood out as a significant project from the initial submissions. The photographs of the building had a painterly, almost ethereal quality. Expectations were therefore high when the judges visited the building but remarkably that poetic quality was evident in the flesh. Of all the projects visited it had the strongest narrative, passionately explained by the architect, and evident in the end result. This is a beautiful addition to a beautiful landscape.
The Mill, Scottish Borders by WT Architecture
Southside Steading is collection of disused farm buildings that nestles into a steep hill overlooking a valley in the Scottish Borders. The brief was to convert the mill to create a modern, rural holiday home that retained much of its historic character.
The mill’s distinctive long form emerging out of the hillside gives it a striking yet exposed position on the site and supported an architectural solution contained within the original walls. The old roof and floors were beyond repair, so a new insulated timber building was slotted into the existing structure, rising above the original wall to provide a largely glazed clerestory from where light could spill down into the lower floors. The dramatic level changes along the length of the building gave the opportunity to introduce half levels, and taller spaces, allowing light to move between the spaces and penetrate the tall cross-section of the building. The original front door is reused, entering into a boot room lined in larch. This opens on to a dining-hall with glimpses into the main living spaces beyond. Steps lead down a half level to the kitchen, which opens out to a wild garden. The main living space is half a level up from the dining-hall, with a new window overlooking the valley below. An accessible bathroom, utility and bedroom are tucked in the partially underground north end of the building. On the upper floor there are three bedrooms, two accessed from the west stair and one from the east stair, allowing a double-height space between to give light to the ground floor.
The original building was characterised by its forgiving mix of rural materials showing its previous historic adaptations. The original walls were consolidated and repaired using stone from the site, and re-pointed with lime mortar. Any new openings in the stonework were edged in galvanised steel and the new timber structure clad in black stained timber as subservient to the original walls.
House at Maghera, County Down, by McGonigle McGrath
This family house is on the edge of a clachan, a small grouping of farmsteads, on the leeward side of the Mourne Mountains and is composed of two linear traditional building forms.
Each discrete form is displaced and slightly rotated in relation to its neighbour, with a resulting silhouette that anchors the house to the ground and fixes it in the landscape. The principle of this formal move is simple and also routinely attempted, but the achievement here is in the subtlety and control of the resulting composition: that which might have been the mere consequence of the contingencies of site and fit is here elevated to a taut and charged relationship of form, scale and alignment.
Eschewing a naïve dependence on the diagram, the two forms are welded together by the extension of roof slopes. The resulting silhouette anchors the house to the ground and fixes it in the landscape with the memorable profile of the Mournes looming in the middle distance. There is real talent and judgment at work here and a deftness of hand that goes far beyond a reimagined vernacular or the pedantry of formal diagram. The secondary moves of walls, steps and plinth foreground the building in its immediate environment.
The front entrance yard has a cool tension reminiscent of the Mexican architect Luis Barragán, albeit without the colour, and is authentic in its context and meaning. The entrance hall leads to a music room, a trapezoidal volume complete with piano, and enclosed by a pair of folding and sliding barn doors. A guest bedroom to the east occupies the end gable of the shorter building form - a wonderful cavernous volume with a large singular window and timber planks for a floor. The longer range of west-facing living rooms with serried overhead bedrooms all gaze outwards at the Mournes, the pattern thwarted by the cantilevered living room corner acting as foil to the linear diagram. In the second living room the diagram is subverted by a tall clerestory window reaching through the first floor to scoop morning east-light into this otherwise west-facing space.
This is a family house providing an empathetic framework of beautiful spaces for its occupants, opportunistically using the site and appropriate technologies to achieve an eminently habitable and sustainable home. The quality of construction is very high, exemplary and demanding detailing executed with evident local skill and obvious pride (who said craft was dead): a credit to architect, client and builder.
Levring House, London, by Jamie Fobert Architects
The spacious and luxurious house fills a corner plot of a typical London mews in Bloomsbury with a heady mix of free-flowing space, light filled voids, fastidious detailing and a brilliant regard for the surrounding context. Externally the building is finished with an elegant palette of Danish handmade bricks, bronze panels and plenty of glazing to draw natural light into the heart of the house. Great care has been taken to respect the massing of adjacent buildings and sensitively turn the corner from Roger Street into Doughty Mews. A combination of alignments, setbacks and a sunken basement belie the true volume of the house, which includes a garage, extensive plant rooms housing the machinery for deep-bore ground source heat pumps, and a delightful 14m-long marble lined lap pool in the basement.
The house is arranged as a series of volumes, which step around a central lightwell. This climbs from the basement and is surrounded by full-height sliding glazing. The ground floor includes the entrance, an office, guest accommodation and the garage. The first floor combines a glorious double-height kitchen and dining space, which open on to a hidden terrace to the north, with a more intimate master bedroom overlooking the mews.
On the top floor the building steps back out of view from the street with a more formal sitting room opening on to a south-facing terrace. Internally the architecture is imbued with high quality materials and elegant detailing, which absorb light, are sensuous to the touch and beguiling to the eye. The house’s concrete frame is exposed in ceilings and columns and offset with timber floors, crafted joinery and plastered walls.
This is architecture of sophistication and delight, crafted out of a tight and complex urban site with skill and panache. Complex volumes are rendered simple with a consistency of design approach to provide contemporary living space of the very highest calibre.
Kew House, London, by Piercy & Co
This four-bedroom family house is formed of two prefabricated weathering steel volumes inserted behind a retained 19th-century stable wall. The layout is informal; rich with incidental spaces and unexpected light sources. A delicate, glazed circulation link reveals the contrast between a rustic exterior and refined interior. Split into two wings, the simple plan makes the most of a constrained site and responds to the living patterns of the young family. Completed in January 2014, Kew House was an experimental project, driven by the architect and clients’ shared interest in a ‘kit-of-parts’ approach, prefabrication, and the self-build possibilities emerging from digital fabrication.
Vaulted House, London, by vPPR Architects
This family house, built on the walled site of a former taxi garage, is almost entirely hidden in the middle of a Victorian block in Chiswick. The approach is via a covered passage, beyond which is a brick-lined front porch. A recessed, chamfered surround for the front door hints at the geometric language of the house’s primary formal and spatial idea: a walled enclosure above which a cluster of six conjoined hipped roofs hovers enigmatically.
The house is arranged so that on entry, one is poised between the two levels, with stairs leading up to the open-plan living level, and down to the lower level of bedrooms. The six roofs, each topped by a skylight, are lifted above the enclosing boundary wall. This creates a sense of weightlessness and a borrowed panorama of neighbouring gardens. The hipped roofs’ sloped planes join precisely to form a series of large coffers or ‘vaults’. These vaults spatially define and individually illuminate various parts of the open-plan main living space – kitchen, dining and living areas. In two places, the vaulted roofs are absent, leaving two-storey-deep voids that act as garden courtyards for the basement-level bedrooms and children’s playroom. Glazed walls slide back to expand the living space on to balconies that project into the voids, formed with perforated mesh. This material and its careful detailing creates beautiful shadows on pristine courtyard walls.
Sussex House, West Sussex, by Wilkinson King Architects
This stand-alone contemporary villa set in the Sussex countryside is an exceptional retreat. Externally the house is quietly confident, with its row of low-profile roof pyramids, windows positioned to take advantage of the views, and a muted colour palette of materials. A lack of decoration and ornament gives this modern house a functional feel, but one that is cleverly considered to the very last detail. Internally the double-height void and staircase orchestrate the house, effortlessly organising contiguous open-plan and cellular spaces into a simple but elegant arrangement. The oversailing first floor produces the feeling of a quiet monastic cloister with sun-filled spaces and carefully framed views. There is much to admire about the project, and it is clear the designers have invested a lot of energy into guiding it to have a crafted feel through modern materials and technologies. The design fulfils the brief and provides the clients with so much more.