Designed by Kieran McGonigle and Aidan McGrath, House Lessans, has been named RIBA House of the Year 2019. The most prestigious prize given to the UK’s best new architect-designed house has been awarded this year to a simple home located in County Down, built on the site of a former farmstead.
House Lessans in the rolling countryside of County Down was chosen as the winner as it represents a paradigm in creating relevant contemporary architecture that truly reflects its local context, vernacular and culture. It has an elegant simplicity achieved within a remarkably low budget without excesses, creating delight in the subtly changing volumes as well as its relationship between the inside and outside. The house takes the daily business of life and with the architects’ skills in making a house from simple materials, carefully detailed and with precise alignments, succeeds in becoming not just a house, but more importantly, a home. -- architect John Pardey, Chair of the 2019 RIBA House of the Year jury.
Given by the Royal Institute of British Architects, the RIBA House of the Year is presented to the best new house or house extension designed by an architect in the UK. This year’s winner House Lessans is a family house, part of a small compound of agricultural buildings, and integrated within its natural and built surroundings. The project has already been given the RIBA Northern Ireland Award 2019 and RIBA National Award 2019.
House Lessans demonstrates that life enhancing architecture does not have to cost the earth. Executed with incredible clarity and restraint, McGonigle McGrath have used simple and cheap materials to create a truly bespoke home that resonates with its owners and its context. Even with the tightest of budgets, House Lessans shows that a dream home, designed by a talented architect, can be a reality. -- Alan Jones, RIBA President
Two perpendicular blocks with white rendered concrete walls capped with zinc pitched roofs, generate “a dramatic double-height living space, and a suite of three bedrooms overlooking a tranquil sheltered courtyard garden”. An open plan kitchen and glass facades connect the space to the exterior and allow panoramic views, whereas bedrooms highlight more intimate configurations and private spaces.
Like most non-architects about to build a home, we had a clear idea about what we’d like in terms of rooms but no idea about how these rooms might be arranged or what the house might look like. The magic a gifted architect can work was evident from the moment we saw the initial plans and that appreciation deepened as the project progressed. We feel that the house respects and indeed enhances the landscape. It is a joy to live in - from seeing the soaring bedroom ceiling on wakening, being surrounded by the gentle landscape in the kitchen during the day, to enjoying the sunset in the top room. We’re delighted to be a part of the RIBA celebration of the life enhancing potential of architecture. -- Sylvia and Michael, the owners of House Lessans.
With £1,425 per square meter, House Lessans is an achievement in terms of cost, for a newly built home of this scale. In fact, the craftsmanship of McGonigle McGrath allowed the firm to create a house on a budget. Opting for basic building materials, cost-saving hacks and simple arrangement of rooms and spaces, “every penny of the client’s budget has been carefully and well spent.”
It has been both a delight and a challenge to work on this project; a delight in the beautiful location in this archetypically Ulster landscape and in the simple brief, and a challenge in designing and delivering a precisely detailed and high-quality building within a modest budget. The outcome, a small collection of forms in the landscape, contributes to this place and, we hope, extends our understanding of how to make buildings in our countryside. Our thanks go to our insightful and trusting clients, and to the contractor’s team and craftspeople who had the patience and skills to bring our designs to reality. We are thrilled with the outcome. -- Architect Kieran McGonigle from McGonigle McGrath
- Project: House Lessans
- Gross internal floor area: 235m²
- Construction cost: £335,000
- Architect: McGonigle McGrath
- Structural engineer: MWL Consulting Engineers
- QS: MJ Donnelly Quantity Surveyors
- Main contractor: Hans Crosby
Nithurst Farm by Adam Richards Architects
Pocket House by Tikari Works
A Restorative Rural Retreat for Sartfell by Foster Lomas
Black House by Dualchas Architects
House Lessans by McGonigle McGrath
Secular Retreat by Atelier Peter Zumthor with Mole Architects
The Green House by David Sheppard Architects