Colbost House: Dualchas Architects reinvent the Scottish black shed on the Isle of Skye

Colbost House: Dualchas Architects reinvent the Scottish black shed on the Isle of Skye

A dark craggy cliff face forms an unusual backdrop for an ’abstracted shed’ characterised by black oiled Siberian larch cladding and aluminium roof sheeting. Especially one described by Mary Arnold-Forster, of Dualchas Architects, as ’distilled to the most important aspects of scale, form, siting and proportion by using only two materials and with no other distractions or decoration’.

However, belying this rigorous, even austere concept is a generous, light-flooded and eminently user-friendly four-bedroom home for a family of five on the Isle of Skye.

The single-storey, open-plan living areas to the front of the site revel in views over Loch Dunvegan towards the Western Isles via a substantial strip of glazing. By contrast, the separate storey-and-a-half bedroom accommodation nestles into the shadow of the crag behind. In order to reduce the bulk of the substantial 246 sq m house, the volumes have been cleverly arranged into what appears to be two conjoined blockhouses - the scale of which sits snugly rather than oppressively within the coastal landscape.  

The whole arrangement of Colbost House - which also includes a separate garage, wood store and heat pump shelter - appears from the road as a discreet, low-slung collection of agricultural buildings, essentially creating the effect of a contemporary farm courtyard. Each component echoes the traditional black sheds (annes in Gaelic) that pepper the island. Indeed one is located on the track leading up to the new house.  

In Colbost, the architect has effectively reimagined the simple, stalwart vernacular forms of the traditional Scottish Highlands as an ultra-contemporary dwelling - not only in terms of energy efficiency and leading-edge remote technology, but also in the expansive top-lit spaces. And in doing so has created something of a template for a new generation of rural ’blackhouses’. §

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