The idea of building a home of your own, fully tailored to the way that you and your family want to live, is a dream that many hold and cherish. As the depth and breadth of new houses featured in the annual RIBA Awards suggests, it is a dream that is increasingly being turned from a dream into reality. Houses have always featured prominently in the regional and national RIBA Awards, yet looking back over the past few years it feels as though we are now entering something of a golden age for the bespoke, architect-designed modern home.
21st Century Houses: RIBA Award-Winning Homes is a new book celebrating some of the most accomplished and original houses from the past five years of the awards cycle. The new title, written by Dominic Bradbury and released by RIBA Publishing this autumn, features residential projects from all thirteen RIBA regions, including Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as houses within a wide range of different contexts covering both town and country.
21st Century Houses includes the work of some of the best and most accomplished architects from all of our four home nations, including Tonkin Liu, James Gorst, Anthony Hudson, Chris Dyson, McLean Quinlan, Mary Arnold-Forster and many more. But the book is, importantly, also a celebration of those who commissioned these extraordinary houses in the first place, realising their own ambitions but also setting in motion a unique, creative collaboration quite unlike any other working relationship that we might cherish across our lifetimes.
The relationship between architect and client has often been compared to the connection between doctor and patient. Yet, while this comparison might point to the intensity of such a relationship, it doesn’t quite suggest its creative potential, with positive dialogue leading towards a building that is not only functional, sustainable and efficient but also crafted, characterful and considered. Such a conversation needs to establish as clearly as possible not only the programme for the project, including the rooms and spaces required, but also the parameters of the relationship and who will be responsible for what. Just as importantly, there are also complex questions of architectural taste, style and aesthetics to talk about.
‘An experienced client who can give you a full set of information that explains exactly what they want to achieve is really rare,’ says Meredith Bowles, principal of Mole Architects, who designed – among others – Marsh Hill in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, featured in the new book. ‘But clarity and common understanding are key to progressing the project and if you don’t have that then there could be a misunderstanding. Building a new house can be a three to five year project so you do have to get along and regular contact and checking in is a very important thing. It’s important to stay on top of all of the issues and think about things from the clients’ perspective.’
Bowles uses a bespoke schedule of services that sets out very clearly the commitments of architect and client, but he also stresses the importance of following RIBA’s initial Stage 0 of its suggested ‘Plan of Work’, which aims to establish the direction of the project and the design approach before the design stage even begins. This is not only a way of getting to know one another, but clearly sets out a series of early steps that are more to do with communication and setting out a clear direction of travel. Stage 0 includes agreeing the clients’ requirements and appraising the site and budget, before moving onto the following stages of the project, including preparing the project brief (stage 1) and then concept design (stage 2).
‘Long conversations are held with the clients discussing various day to day scenarios and long term family life scenarios,’ says Anthony Hudson, principal of Hudson Architects, which designed – among other projects – the award-winning Le Petit Fort in Jersey. ‘These are all recorded by us and from this develops a layout and arrangement. We also ask the clients to write down their brief and send images of things they like, as well as setting up a Pinterest board. They need to think realistically about the budget and how they would like their house to operate from an energy point of view. Even more important is that you have the right match and that both clients and architects are on the same wavelength.’
Hudson’s clients at Le Petit Fort, for example, had a very particular set of priorities that needed to be discussed in detail, including relating the house to its coastal context, catering for the needs of a young family and making the most of the sea vista by placing the main living spaces upstairs and the bedrooms downstairs. Like Bowles, Hudson stresses the need to manage clients’ expectations from the very beginning, while also keeping them engaged throughout what will be a long but ultimately rewarding design and build process. As well as inspirational homes, 21st Century Houses includes a section of practical advice for potential clients, while suggesting how crucial these early collaborative stages are within the journey towards a fully tailored, modern home.
21st Century Houses: RIBA Award-Winning Homes by Dominic Bradbury is available online from RIBA Books or visit RIBA bookshop.