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Richard Murphy’s own home crowned ‘best house in UK’

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Richard Murphy’s ‘stunning’ Edinburgh home has been named the 2016 RIBA House of the Year

The house in the city’s UNESCO-listed New Town was inspired by Carlo Scarpa and was praised for overcoming planning restrictions and a challenging site. 

Described by RIBA president Jane Duncan as ‘part jigsaw puzzle and part Wallace and Gromit’, the house features a series of unexpected places and moving walls. 

The house, which failed to pick up a RIAS award earlier this year, saw off competition from six other homes including Henning Stummel’s Stephen Lawrence Prize-shortlisted Tin House and Loyn & Co’s Stirling Prize-shortlisted Outhouse.

The winning house was revealed at the end of a special edition of Grand Designs which aired on Channel 4 tonight (Thursday 15 December). 

Speaking about the winning house, Duncan, said: ‘The Murphy House is this year’s best example of how to overcome challenging constraints – from planning restrictions and an awkward site in an urban location – to build a stunning house. Plus the architect overcame one of the biggest obstacles: a demanding client – himself!

‘Nearly a decade in the making, this house is a true labour of love for Richard. Part jigsaw puzzle, with its hidden and unexpected spaces, and part Wallace and Gromit with its moving pieces and disappearing walls, this is a model house of pure perfection and a worthy winner of the RIBA House of the Year 2016.’

One of the judges, Philip Thorn from Hiscox, added: ‘Murphy House was a real box of tricks with a unique, playful character. Although a small property, it was deceivingly large inside due to the clever use of space. Every room contained a surprise and the attention to detail was exceptional. The roof terrace was a real oasis of calm, and I loved the long list of environmentally friendly touches. A true pleasure to visit and I would imagine a lot of fun to live in.’

The judging panel for the award was chaired by Mole Architects’ Meredith Bowles and, in addition to Thorn, included Joanthan Dallas of Dallas Pierce Quintero, Wallpaper architecture editor Elle Stathaki, and Charlotte Skene Catling of Skene Catling de la Peña, which won last year’s award for its Flint House

The RIBA House of the Year Award replaced the institute’s long-established Manser Medal last year when the television series was introduced. The relaunched Manser Medal is now part of the British Homes Awards. 

Last year the special Grand Designs show, fronted by Kevin McCloud saw the prize reach a greater audience than ever before with the first show attracting 2.2 million viewers.

The shortlist 

Tin House by Henning Stummel

160806 Henning Stummel Tin House 194

160806 Henning Stummel Tin House 194

The back land site of the Tin House is entered from a modest London street through a ‘massive’ Soanian brick double-height arch – a gateway to a remarkable domestic inner world. 

Creating a secluded place was a priority. The architects’ response was to develop a low, inward-looking, tranquil courtyard that is open to the south yet offers privacy, both visual and acoustic. The design is a composition of different pavilions: six earth-coloured metal-clad pyramidal top-lit forms. 

The cladding is a warm earthy colour, which is in dialogue with the surrounding stock brick buildings. The space is maximized through these six interconnected pyramidal pods where the colour coated steel GreenCoat PLX BT was specified for the roofs and faćades. This gave cohesiveness to the separate but conjoined units allowing the project to create a dialogue with the warm, earthy London brick which surrounds the site. GreenCoat PLX BT features a Bio-based Technology (BT) with a substantial portion of the traditional fossil part replaced by a bio-based alternative like rapeseed oil. This unique, patented solution by SSAB reduces the environmental footprint of the house significantly.

This modest and utilitarian finish accentuates the monolithic and sculptural quality of the design. A calm rectangular pool of water allows for condensation cooling and the sun’s reflections from the water bring the facades to life. Each pavilion accommodates a room. The roof shape has a low contour and maximizes spatial volume. This source of light from above brings the spaces to life. The roof-lights can be opened and on warm days the stack effect ensures that fresh cool air is drawn in from above the pool. The Pantheon and the work of James Turrell have influenced the design of the top lit pavilions. 

As one moves through the building the layout gives a changing enfilade of vistas and views, the geometric forms accentuated by the simple utilitarian finishes. The brick fireplace mirrors the entrance gateway in its scale and texture and acts as a ‘touchstone’ at the heart of the composition, grounding the house around a hearth. 

The pavilions are super- insulated (250 mm of PU foam) and relatively airtight. A heat-recovery air system ensures energy efficient ventilation throughout the colder months.

Full of inventiveness, the cleverly detailed thick walls contain the services. The house has a beautiful balance of delight and is obviously an uplifting and practical place to live. The judges were all equally moved, delighted and inspired by this unexpected back-land jewel. 

Garden House by Hayhurst and Co 

Garden House by Hayhurst and Co

Garden House by Hayhurst and Co

Source: Killian O’Sullivan

The Garden House replaces a single storey workshop built by the Clients in the mid-1990s. The brief was to form a home and studio; which maximised the space and natural light available within their tight 85 square metre site behind Victorian housing in Hackney’s de Beauvoir Conservation area. 

The house is entered through a winter garden flooded with top-light from a mirror-polished stainless steel clad rooflight. This leads on to a connected set of living spaces lit by natural light through strategically placed and sculptured rooflights. These give the ground floor an ethereal quality of light, which sets off the careful selected material palette. The clients’ art collection is displayed on bespoke steel shelves that continue on to a folded steel staircase that is carefully disengaged from the wall, to allow natural light to pass behind it. The upper room is lined with oak panelling, forming a workshop for sewing and embroidery, as well as a fitting room for visiting clients. This space is naturally lit from a large central rooflight. 

The roof is a bespoke hanging garden, formed by refined, lapped, and elegant stainless steel trays hung over a GRP membrane. 800 sedums and heathers are planted into the stepped beds. They replicate the character of the planting and fauna of Dungeness where the owners also have a second home. Neighbours must be delighted with their views down onto this unusual stepped roof garden. 

The Jury was captivated with the exquisite detailing that went into this house. The architects have skilfully created a rich and layered experience in a very small space. It gives the owners a peaceful and private space to live and work, which is a real achievement given the overlooked and enclosed nature of the site.

Garden House

Garden House

Modern Mews by Coffey Architects

Modern Mews by Coffey Architects

Modern Mews by Coffey Architects

Source: Tim Soar

The challenges involved in making a home from an existing mews house enclosure are two-fold – firstly to carve a useful space from a small site of approximately three by eight metres and secondly to bring light into what is a single aspect building. Effectively, it is an intricately designed and constructed piece of joinery crafted to live in. 

The existing four storey mews house suffered from a dark interior due to only having windows to the front despite being 8m deep. The master bedroom and en-suite on lower ground enjoyed no natural light and the bedrooms on top floors felt disconnected and underused due to the tiny spiral stair at the rear of the building. 

Coffey Architects moved the stair to the centre to avoid corridors taking up valuable space and approached the whole project as one large piece of joinery adding clarity to the and connectivity to the whole house. At the centre a stair pierces four floors of accommodation in a spectacular burst of light. This staircase is also the organisational structure bringing a rationale to the planning and layout of the house. 

Its open treads in connection with the glazed landings and the glazed roof above allow natural lighting to enter at the centre of the plan. Additionally translucent sliding doors are added so the rooms enjoy natural light even when the doors are closed. The living area and the master bedroom and en-suite has been swapped around. A glass floor has been introduced to the front of the house on the ground floor allowing natural light to the living room on the lower ground. 

The detailing is exquisite, the warmth of the oak timber brings a tactile quality which is further enhanced by the sliding doors, which with an inner layer of rice-paper sets up illusionary views across the plan. The glass-floored light wells further enhance the illusion of depth and perspective as one moves vertically through the house. The white painted textured inner brick skin helps with the refraction of the light, adding to a kaleidoscope effect. This lining cleverly conceals many of the services. 

A fine marriage of planning, control of light and rigorous detailing has very cleverly multiplied the use of space to create a family home well beyond the client’s aspirations.

Covert House by DSDHA

Covert House by DSDHA

Covert House by DSDHA

Source: Christoffer Rudquist

As very busy architects Deborah Saunt and David Hills of DSDHA have had to wait a long time to design their own home – but the wait has been worthwhile. They have used it as a test-bed for their ideas on sustainability. Their experiments – carried out under restrictive Conservation Area planning conditions – resulted in an unorthodox, semi-underground house that challenges what it means to design a contemporary domestic space. 

The two-storey house is a simple composition of two interlocked white cubes, which is entirely shielded from street view. The planners limited to a single-storey height so DSDHA had to half bury the house. The exterior presents itself as a low-rise, lightweight architectural piece of architecture, clad in white render, with chamfered mirror reveals. The house also has to follow strict rules to reduce overlooking from neighbouring gardens: it has a stepped roof line in section so it is lower close to garden boundaries, from which it is set back clear from on all sides. 

Covert House is indeed a case study on the potential for unlocking backland sites and creating architectural opportunities that subtly densify our residential areas and respond to the urban necessity of building more houses close to the city centre. Allowing for more well designed houses to be built in existing private backland sites may also be a way for people to develop the assets they own and live in, while also releasing some of their equity. 

This is an exquisitely crafted home, with every detail and material carefully thought through; a beautiful space that is immediately calming and exciting. The exposed in-situ concrete interior gives the project a unique identity; whilst evidently structural it is also delicate, beautifully detailed and finely executed. The mirror façade softens the edges of the building and allows it to sit playfully within the surrounding garden context.

The site strategy is a brilliant response to planning issues, providing a model for sensitive densification, and achieving a very good-looking house.

Covert house

Covert house

Murphy House by Richard Murphy Architects

Murphy House by Richard Murphy Architects

Murphy House by Richard Murphy Architects

Source: Keith Hunter

This project is a rare example of construction of a contemporary house within the World Heritage Site of the New Town of Edinburgh. It is a house designed by Richard Murphy for his own use and is consequently something of an architectural and environmental experiment. There are a number of agendas at work. 

Firstly, with a modest floor area of 165 m2 on a footprint of only 11 metre x 6 metre, (formerly half of a garden to an apartment on Forth Street), it nevertheless contains three bedrooms, a living/dining/kitchen area at varying levels, study, basement storage, garage, utility room and roof terrace. 

Secondly, it is an essay in how contemporary design might contribute to a historic and particular place in the New Town, in this instance an unresolved junction of two streets. The adjacent gable end should not have been exposed and the house deliberately responded by becoming a “bookend” to it, with its front façade continuing the stonework pattern of the street façade. 

Thirdly, the house had to preserve the privacy and sky views from the adjacent apartment and this contributed to the bookend section. 

Fourthly, there is a very strong energy agenda in the new house. The roof consists of photovoltaic cells and substantial south-facing glazing. Underneath this are mechanised insulated shutters allowing the glass to generate heat when open but preventing it radiating heat when closed. A computerised internal air circulation system takes warm air from the top of the house to the basement via a gravel rock store to produce a delayed heat source for evening use. The main heating source for the house is a 150 metres deep ground source borehole connecting to a heat exchanger which feeds under-floor heating. All the major windows to the house have insulated shutters. Rainwater which follows a course of pools and waterfalls on the roof terrace finds it way to grey-water storage tanks in the basement and is then used to flush toilets and supply a sprinkler system. Heat is extracted from the flue of a log burning stove to pre-heat hot water. 

A final agenda is the many architectural influences at work. Not least is the work of Carlo Scarpa, on whom Richard Murphy is an authority. The roof terrace is a homage to the garden of the Querini Stampalia in Venice using the same exposed aggregate walls and sourcing tiles from Scarpa’s original manufacturer in Venice. Internally, the Venetian “stucco lucido” coloured plasterwork is used extensively. The Sir John Soane Museum and the Maison de Verre are also great influences in the use of illusion and moving elements. Reitveld’s Schroder house makes an appearance in a “disappearing corner” stone panel opening, designed to be the same proportions as his famous window.

Richard murphy

Richard murphy

Ansty Plum by Coppin Dockray 

Ansty Plum by Coppin Dockray

Ansty Plum by Coppin Dockray

Source: Rachael Smith

Judges’ citation 

Ansty Plum is a very special 20th-century house, resurrected for viable modern living without damaging the spirit or the fabric of the original. In the house, what has been taken away and what has not been added is as important as what has been rescued or retained.

The building is now perhaps as close to its original form as at any time in its subsequent development, and the removal of limited but unhappy accruals, such as an en-suite shower room on the first-floor platform were essential in resetting the balance of the space.

Careful thought has led to a building that is discreetly and successfully heated, lit, insulated and serviced, leaving the classic period interior intact and the house’s future assured. One could debate the change in atmosphere created by replacing the original brick floor to allow underfloor heating and service improvements, but the use of stock paving slabs surface-ground down to the aggregate is a clever and pleasing intervention that sits well in context. The house is modest, and the viability initiative sensibly and sensitively looked elsewhere for ancillary accommodation.

The stone shell of the dilapidated Smithson-designed studio adjacent to the house was inhabited to provide an accommodation annexe featuring bedroom, shower room and storage sub-space, sitting above a garage and store on the steeply sloping site. The apparent collapsed state of the building could perhaps have led to a slightly bolder – that is a less reverent – architecture, but the rebuild is fastidiously faithful to the spirit of the original while adding considerable comfort and some delight.

The space is lined with timber of a delicious hue to create an almost nostalgic atmosphere. Great care has been applied in detail throughout; a frameless and seamless door hung on a brass piano hinge opens to reveal a glass-backed shower room overlooking a fern-lined embankment in a typical example. This is an intimate gem of a space which complements the initiatives undertaken in the main house, as a skilfully crafted small project.

Outhouse by Loyn & Co 

Outhouse by Loyn & Co

Outhouse by Loyn & Co

Source: Charles Hosea

Judges’ citation 

Outhouse is located on a fabulous sloping plot in the Forest of Dean, running beside Offa’s Dyke, with long views to the Wye Valley and Severn Estuary. The design exploits the site potential to the full with a discreet design that beds into the site literally and metaphorically, finely balancing respect to context with confident architectural expression.

The simplicity of the house, which was undoubtedly hard-won, is founded on rigour and restraint. This is a house with a field on top – not an ‘architectural’ green roof but a proper field, punctured with light wells that creatures are having to learn to avoid. It is a concrete house where the concrete feels warm and luxurious, and a considered and crafted palette of surfaces form a backdrop for the artist-owners’ own refined art and furniture.

The design eloquently and effortlessly tackles many familiar issues; the blurred relationship between interior and exterior space, the penetration of light into a deep single-aspect plan, the control of sustainability without flaunting it.

The key architectural device is a rigorous plan organisation separating studio and working spaces on the uphill side and glass-fronted living spaces on the downhill side to take advantage of spectacular views. The building’s backbone is a linear circulation space driven through the plan perpendicular to the site slope, with the front door at one end and Wales at the other. The entrance is a Modernist set-piece with a covered approach flanked by a black pigmented concrete pavilion and a simple solid open stair running through a rectangular puncture in the roof plane. Channelled views through the glass door reveal the spine, active as a gallery space opens to and illuminated by the living space on the downslope side. Fleeting glimpses of the retired owner’s traversing the house on micro-scooters confirmed the very definite feeling that we wanted to enter.

To misquote Renee Zellweger in Jerry Maguire: ‘they had us at “Hello’’.’

Video:

Outhouse by Loyn & Co

outhouse quote

outhouse quote

 

 

  • 4 Comments

Readers' comments (4)

  • I can't imagine very many people want to live in a "part jigsaw puzzle, part Wallace and Gromit" house (except my grandchildren maybe). Together with last year's decided curiosity, the award is moving away from showing what architects can do for people in general.
    Tin House, Ansty Plum, or Outhouse would more usefully represent the skills of architects to the outside world.

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  • Absolutely the right choice; this is about the high art of architecture, not about all things to all men.

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  • Chris Rogers

    Genuinely surprised, and not in a good way. Garden House was my favourite, and surely says more about today. It was compact, green, included a work space and was homely. Shame.

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  • Mr Berridge, you lack imagination - can't you see that the sheer inventiveness of the design is not just indulgence in flights of fancy, it's responding to the challenges of creating a place that's really enjoyable to live in without dodging the functional requirements of a house, and rising to the challenge of a difficult site by making the very best of it. Thank goodness the planners took a rather more enlightened view of the design.

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