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Houses of the year

Architecture has its political Use; Buildings being the Ornament of a Country; it establishes a Nation, draws People and Commerce; makes the People love their native Country, which Passion is the Original of all great Actions in a Common-wealth. Architecture aims at Eternity.


There’s nothing like a bit of architectural porn to peruse when you’ve got the time to spare. As an architecture buff, I’ve been glued to Grand Designs’ House of the Year 2017 programmes on C4.

The imagination, the skill, the love that has gone into these projects blows me away. There are some utterly, utterly beautiful houses out there, all designed to be the very best using the very best materials they can.

To be honest, the one that won the accolade wasn’t my favourite, and there were some on both the shortlist and the longlist that I really didn’t care for but that is always the problem with stuff like this, where personal taste plays such an important role. Having said that, I can see that there is a lot, A LOT, to love about Caring Wood, the oast-house inspired country house in Kent.

The blurb on the RIBA website reads: Caring Wood revives local building crafts and traditions including locally sourced handmade peg clay tiles, locally quarried ragstone and coppiced chestnut cladding. The house comprises four towers, with interlinking roofs like markers in the landscape, echoing other oast houses in the distance. Caring Wood re-imagines the traditional English country house. It speaks of its time and place: with a contemporary design that has clear links to the rural vernacular.

I love the fact that it uses local materials and the way it flows to connect what are effectively four separate homesteads together to allow the extended family for whom it was designed and built to live together as a multi-generational community. For me, at the moment, it jars slightly, sticking out from the landscape, however, the plans for the landscaping are designed to make it blend into the surroundings as the trees and plants mature, so I suspect I will feel differently about it as time goes on. It melds the old and the new beautifully, in terms of the materials, the design (it’s zero carbon in use apparently), the multi-generational occupants and the two architectural practices who collaborated on it – one of the architects was fresh out of university.  

One of the houses I thought was pure genius, though it didn’t make it off the longlist was Whole House.

Built to a relatively modest budget on a 92sqm plot, surrounded by other people’s back gardens, it had to contend with the issue of not being able to have any outward facing windows and also being sited in an area of architecturally outstanding, upmarket Edwardian terraced properties.

The use of the central open courtyard and skylights to bring light to what could have been just a brick-clad box is incredible, as is the way the property uses meandering corridors to bring a sense of space to the interior and the way the basement adds a whole other storey to the property.

It is glorious. Utterly glorious.

Each and every one of the buildings considered for the awards this year is outstanding in its own way. They are a testament to what can be achieved with passion, commitment, vision (and OK money, as not many of these were done on a shoestring) and the best materials that you can.

If you have 20 minutes to spare with your morning coffee, check out the entrants on the RIBA website here. I guarantee it will lift your soul.


About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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