Context 158 - March 2019

C O N T E X T 1 5 8 : M A R C H 2 0 1 9 37 Highlands and Islands FIONA NEWTON New architecture of Scotland’s west coast After a great deal of poor housing design in the 20th century, some excellent new architecture has emerged, much of it inspired by the familiar vernacular form of traditional buildings. The west coast of Scotland – remote rural Argyll, the Highlands, and the Islands of the Hebrides – is an area probably never known for its domestic architecture, either traditional or modern. It may have fine castles and monuments but the landscape has been more memorable than the domestic architecture. Traditionally the area is noted for its drystone- walled blackhouses, longhouses with room for humans at one end and animals at the other. Originally roofed in thatch or turf, some contin- ued in use and others have now been restored, but many stand roofless. After the stone blackhouses came the new modern white houses, built to standard pattern- book designs. Attractive and well proportioned, they were constructed with stone and lime initially. But in later phases they were built in concrete, with little thought for positioning away from weather extremes as the traditional houses had been. They were cold and damp, and soon many fell into disrepair. Throughout the 20th century, development in the west continued with even poorer standard designs. Finally, an epidemic of kit houses began to cover the land with the same designs and with no resonance of place. ‘The incongruity of these structures in a setting of such outstanding scenic beauty, their disregard for the traditional building forms and materials that have evolved from the land, invariably shocks the visitor, writes Mary Miers.1 The kit houses, with their bulky massing, oversize dormers and bolted-on balconies, have the names of far-flung glens or remote islands to ensure that customers believe that they must really be suitable for the locality. They are often positioned on prominent platforms of raised ground and as poorly protected from prevailing weather as their white house predecessors. Against the backdrop of humble traditional houses and poor-quality replacements, a new manner of design has emerged over the last two decades, which have seen rural Scottish domestic architecture winning acclaim and awards equal to that of urban metropolitan design. In 2018 a remote off-grid west highland house, Lochside House by HaysomWardMiller Architects, beat off a shortlist of six houses in London and the south of England to win the RIBA House of theYear. Some of the recent work in the area has been carried out by architects from London and the south² but in the vanguard of the new architecture of the Highlands are two firms based in the Isle of Skye: Dualchas,³ founded by twins Alasdair and Neil Stephen, Islay Beach Cottage and larch guest annexe, Kilnaughton Bay, Isle of Islay, by Dualchas. The buildings are inspired by a local tradition of white- painted farmhouse and wooden outbuildings surrounded by stone walls. The drystone walls are built of stone quarried on site. ¹ Miers, M (2006) The Western Seaboard , Rutland Press ² For example, House No 7 cottage and extensions on the Isle of Tiree by Denizen Works, designed for the architect’s parents, and House at Camusdarach Sands by Raw Architecture Works ³ Boreraig, Glendale; Cliff House Galtrigall; the Black House, Armadale; and Colbost; all on the Isle of Skye Photos by Fiona Newton

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