McGonigle McGrath’s County Down compound named RIBA House of the Year
In Northern Ireland, Belfast-based McGonigle McGrath has refined a former farmstead into a family home through a series of edits and additions made with restraint and clarity
McGonigle McGrath’s House Lessans was once a small working farmstead, and although it is now a family home, it retains many characteristics of its former life. Two existing structures, a barn and shed, have been enveloped into a humble sprawl of contemporary living spaces that make up the house, which has just been announced as the winner of the RIBA House of the Year 2019 award.
Located in the midst of the green rolling landscape of County Down, House Lessans has refreshingly remastered the original industrial buildings into a friendly settlement. A new forecourt and bedroom block with its own private courtyard evolve the formerly rectangular plan into an L-shaped masterplan.
The simple pitched zinc roofs and embedded concrete plinths lift language from agricultural outbuildings, yet are refined through detailing into contemporary living spaces. Wide windows frame views into the landscape, while subtle shifts in level define changes in the function of space to retain the open volume found in the original barn.
The RIBA House of the Year jury described the house’s ensemble of existing and new buildings as ‘carefully orchestrated’, and commended the architects’ ability to ‘edit’ the architecture: ‘The house belies any notion that an expensive budget is somehow the gateway to excellence,’ says the report.
Practicing the values of discipline, minimalism and necessity Belfast-based practice McGonigle McGrath, founded by Kieran McGonigle and Aidan McGrath, allow the quiet rural compound to settle into the landscape and the sloping ‘drumlins’ in the distance to dominate.
Yet while the house is low key, and low rise – it’s barely visible from the overgrown entry lane until you reach the ample front yard, there is warmth and a softer informality woven into the industrial shapes and materials that makes it feel like home.
Perhaps it’s the contrast of the buildings against the austere beauty of the landscape and the heaviness of the clouds on a late afternoon in autumn. Perhaps it’s the architects’ economic vision that makes this place feel light, and healthy.
‘The architects have shown remarkable restraint and skill in creating a family home that exudes calm, dignity, and generosity,’ summarise the RIBA judges. §