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Reiach and Hall’s house for artist Alan Johnston wins approval


Reiach and Hall’s house in Edinburgh for artist Alan Johnston has secured planning approval

The 170m² home is comprised of two overlapping cuboids, one split over two levels with living rooms and a kitchen/dining room and a second with a studio, study, and library.

The east side of the house is tucked into the slope of the garden, keeping the overall height of the project low in relation to the adjacent buildings.

Johnston is an internationally renowned artist and emeritus professor at the Edinburgh College of Art and often collaborates with contemporary architects on site-specific works. 

The Johnston House design approach was a development of a collaborative sculptural piece by Johnston and Reiach and Hall’s Neil Gillespie, which was part of a 2010 exhibition at the Henry Moore Foundation in Leeds.

The project is expected to start on site in early 2019.

Alan Johnston Henry Moore  1

Alan Johnston Henry Moore 1

Architect’s view

The proposals position the new house within a screened and slightly elevated area, set back from the street and behind the building line of the adjacent villas. The existing screening plants and trees will be retained or replaced in order to minimise the visual impact of the house from the street, and allow the dominance of the mature landscape to be preserved.

Although modest, the Johnston house – like a number of other small projects, notably the Ackling Cook Bothy winner of the Royal Scottish Academy Gold Medal and the Pier Arts Centre, Orkney winner of the RIAS Doolan Award and a Europa Nostra Award – enables Reiach and Hall to explore architectural ideas at a level that is generally impossible in today’s bureaucratic and controlled procurement environment.

The proposals for the Johnston house develop many of the thematic explorations that both Alan Johnston and Reiach and Hall Architects are interested in. These themes are centred on work which is embedded in a given context yet retains its own authority and autonomy.

The design approach was a development of a collaborative sculptural piece by Alan Johnston and Neil Gillespie which was part of Alan Johnston’s major exhibition at the Henry Moore Foundation, Leeds, in 2010. There, two aluminium, glass and oak pieces explored the spatial nature of the house as epitomised by the frame and the cell. That is, the sense of open space, plan libre espoused by Le Corbusier, versus the room, raumplan as espoused by Adolf Loos.

The Johnston house is a meshing of two rectangular cuboids. The larger one, over two levels, contains rooms for living: on the ground floor entrance hall, shower room, living/ dining /kitchen while the upper level contains three bedrooms and their associated bathrooms. The larger cuboid constitutes the normal functions of a ‘house’.

A smaller single storey cuboid overlaps and engages the first cuboid through the stair element. The second cuboid is located at a half level to the first. This cuboid contains studio, study and library. The smaller cuboid constitutes the ‘cultural’ aspirations or the free plan elements of the brief

The east side of the house is tucked into the slope of the garden, keeping the overall height low in relation to the adjacent buildings. The external architectural expression is mute, grey render and stone volumes, designed to visually lose the building in the heavy landscape and mature trees of the site. Much of Johnston’s work is about shadows and the marginal.

Project data

Client Alan & Susan Johnston
Architect Reiach and Hall Architects
Landscape architect Gross Max
Structural engineer AED - Applied Engineering Design
M&E consultant Horizon M&E Services Design
Quantity surveyor Axiom Project Services
Funding Private
Start on site date Early 2019
Gross internal floor area Approx 170m²
Form of contract and/or procurement Traditional
Total Cost Private


Readers' comments (3)

  • Looking forward to seeing the finished house. Regards to Eck.

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  • Wouldn't an artist be expected to want something; Well, a little more "Artistic"??
    Cuboids again. Flat roofs. Let's play with our building blocks.
    Those stairs are downright dangerous; I do hope provision has been made for a handrail and a newel post, or a landing, at the intersection of the steps and the very narrow looking hallway.
    I see Le Corbusier is getting a shout out. Good Lord!! Why are designers still embracing a man whose soulless monstrosities have vandalised the built environment of nearly every continent?

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  • Really looking forward to working with Neil, Angus and Laura on this project. I also worked with Neil on the Pier Arts Centre, which was a great experience, and with Jim Grimley of Reiach and Hall on Aberdeen Sports Village. Always a rewarding and educational journey.

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