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Mind the Gap

As you might expect, everyone at MGA has been riveted to the RIBA House of the Year series that recently aired on Channel 4. Over four episodes, Kevin McCloud and his co-presenters showcased a number of exceptional houses that had been longlisted for the award – including one here in the Lune Valley.

Although many of the buildings certainly fell into the category of ‘dream home’ for the majority of viewers – cantilevered Californian modernism on the Cornish coast, anyone? – one of the overriding themes was actually that of making the most of small or awkward building plots, an agenda driven in the main by the rise in land prices.

The limited availability of land for building in metropolitan areas has led to a growth in the use of small infill sites behind and between other residential developments. In fact, this kind of project has been a feature of a number of McCloud’s Grand Designs programmes in recent years.

With prices for half-decent building plots in cities like London at sky-high levels, architects are increasingly being tasked with creating comfortable and beautiful homes that don’t rely on the luxury of space inside and out. This kind of challenge demands more imaginative solutions – often flipping established and accepted wisdoms on their head and encouraging new approaches that are less reliant for their success on simple square footage formula.

The way light is used is often a defining feature of such developments – even the smallest and most enclosed outside spaces offering glimpses of a view are a bonus, while the illumination of interior spaces with as much natural light as possible becomes a primary mission.

Case in point was the eventual award-winning property. Designed by the architect Richard Murphy for his own use, this relatively humble house in Edinburgh’s New Town is a triumph of design over location.

Occupying an oddly-shaped plot at the junction of two streets, it manages to smooth over the inconsistencies between the various housing styles, reflecting some of the existing vernacular, while creating something new and ground-breaking. A dramatic sloping roof - made mostly of glass with photovoltaic cells – brings daylight flooding in, at the same time harnessing valuable energy and drawing heat from top to bottom, courtesy of an industrial fan.

It’s an extraordinary achievement and one that, given the paucity of prime building spots in urban environments, should offer hope to anyone looking to transform their own infill.

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