New Steading: a magical little building in a glorious spot

A photograph of a small timber clad building sat in a Scottish landscape, the building has a large corner window.
Published: 06/02/2020

The materials we choose and how we design our buildings have a significant impact on responding to a changing climate and helps us reduce carbon emissions. This is explored in the Best Use of Timber Awards 2019 exhibition.  In this blog Ian O'Brien, Ian O'Brien Studio, shares the challenges of building in a remote location, and the opportunities of using timber from a storm-felled oak.

Why was timber used in this project?

The project started with a conversation about what to do with the timber from a substantial oak tree that had been blown down in a storm, through-sawn and left to dry in the client’s barn for 10 years. The client was very excited about using their own oak for the cladding for a new building and keeping a wide board format that suited the way the tree had been cut. 

The detail and aesthetic flowed directly from those first choices, right down to the restraining bolts on the wide oak cladding. The logic of using timber throughout extended from there, resulting in a pre-fabricated timber frame construction for the building itself. 

What was your favourite part of the project process?

I loved collaborating with the timber frame manufacturer and the joiners to develop the construction details to create a beautifully resolved building that nonetheless exudes the natural character, texture and warmth of the timber.  We used 3D modelling of all the construction detail for coordination and design development. 

What is your favourite aspect of the finished project?

The way the building nestles within the dark stone walls of the ruined steading, creating wonderful contrasts and rich textures.  I also love the impact of the view from the corner window when you enter the main room.  One could remain a very long and happy time in there just sitting and looking at the sweep of the glen and the rising shoulders of the mountains. 

Most of all, I like that, when I look at the New Steading, I see a complete picture which encompasses the clients, the oak tree, the character and history of the place.  I like the extended story.   It’s a magical little building in a glorious spot. 

What advice would you give someone that wants to build in a remote area?

Understand the constraints and take them seriously!  In our case, protection of nesting and breeding birds and the local snowy weather placed substantial restrictions on the construction programme (and strain on the client’s patience).  Poor access also narrowed construction choice to elements that could be manhandled into place.  

Best Use of Timber Awards 2019

About author

Ian O'Brien Studio is a creative architecture practice based in Oxfordshire. 

Image credit: Keith Hunter