Fields of Gold
Tying the design and fabric of a building to its landscape has created something rare and precious in a corner of North Ayrshire
Designed as a modern reflection of the area’s industrial and agricultural traditions, this contemporary farmhouse, set on an elevated patch of North Ayrshire land, is a multi-faceted, flexible living space, and has already won several architecture awards, including the GIA’s top prize.
Yet it almost didn’t get off the ground at all. When its owners, Mike and Sally Law, saw the site for the first time, they were not impressed. It did nothing to inspire the dream home they had in mind: “We went to view the plot of land on a grey November afternoon and I found it an extremely gloomy place,” admits Mike. “It was starting to get dark and I found it a bit scary, with all the bare trees around. So it went on the back burner.”
The couple, who were living in a neighbouring town where Mike was the local GP and Sally worked as a pharmacist, kept on searching. They investigated several other plots and options but nothing felt right for the house they wanted to build. Eventually, the first plot came on to the market again and the Laws were offered a second chance to buy it – only this time with the proviso that they had only a week in which to make a decision. Perhaps the pressure of a deadline helped: “We took a deep breath and, without having secured planning permission, submitted a bid,” says Mike. “Our offer was accepted.”
It was a bold, potentially reckless move, but working in their favour was the region’s forward-thinking ‘Single House in the Countryside’ planning policy, which insists that new-build homes must be designed to a high standard and relate to North Ayrshire. “Often the planners’ default position is that you can’t build a house in a rural part of the country like this,” explains Mike. “But under this policy you can do it, so long as the house contributes to the appearance of the area. High-quality bespoke design is what they’re promoting.”
And high-quality bespoke design was exactly what he and Sally were looking for. It led them to Ann Nisbet Studio, a young practice based in Glasgow which set about creating a house that would eventually become one of the first to be built under the ‘Single House in the Countryside’ policy. “I carried out a lot of research, looking at old maps of the area, and studying local industrial and agricultural traditions,” says Ann Nisbet, who had worked with the award-winning Dualchas Architects before setting up her own practice four years ago.
“I was keen to come up with a building whose identity would relate to North Ayrshire specifically, not just to rural architecture in general. There are building types that are quite particular to this area, such as a combination of one and two-storey farm buildings set within a three-sided courtyard. I’ve referenced this in the design. The zinc cladding also references the agricultural and industrial history, which includes a tradition of metal foundries, of the surrounding Garnock valley.”
Following a fairly lengthy period of pre-planning work and discussions, a process Nisbet welcomed as the planners were very much onside, Newhouse of Auchengree finally emerged. Arranged as a cluster of three elements, formed around a courtyard and sheltered terrace, the house is approached via a long access road, through a pend and into the courtyard, creating a ‘pause space’ between the house and the wider landscape.
This is just a taster, you can browse the full article with more stunning photography on pages 140-150, issue 116.