Architecture and Design Scotland invited Roots Architecture to share their self-build story in our blog as part of our focus on ‘Housing’ through September 2017.
This blog was written by Lynne Cox in 2017.
Four Winds is a traditional black-top house; a vernacular style of building unique to the Isle of Tiree in the Hebrides. Since April 2016 Micheal Holliday and I, Directors of Roots Architecture, have been designing and ‘self-building’ a 2-bedroom extension to Four Winds.
The new build is a contemporary interpretation of the ‘black-top’. Our objective for the design is to embody the wisdom of regional details that have evolved to best resist the severe Atlantic weather, whilst taking this thinking further by employing new materials and construction methods to ultimately create a new ‘black-top’ home for contemporary island living.
Self-build or Live-build
Although we have carried out most of the construction work and hard graft ourselves, we have been far from alone. We prefer to think of Four Winds as a ‘live-build’ rather than ‘self-build’ project because many people have contributed to the construction process and we believe that collaboration lies at the heart of any good building.
‘Live-build’ refers to an approach to learning about architecture through engaging yourself in the act of building. Live-build schools are well established throughout the world, especially in North America; it was our endeavour to establish a live-build school in Scotland and that has ultimately led to us to build this house.
Roots have been running Tog Studio ‘live-build’ events for 6 years now to provide architecture students and professionals with a unique experience of getting their hands dirty on site to construct a building together. This teaches participants about the physical construction process and an appreciation for work that happens on site.
We firmly believe that exposure to this type of learning expands our capabilities as designers and we become better equipped for future collaborations with builders. This philosophy is fundamental to our practice and on-going education as architects.
Building the first Tog Studio house
To make the house possible we called upon the friends we’d met through Tog to join us for several ‘live-build’ events. The first of which was a two-week session where we made and erected the structural timber frame for the house; we assembled wall panels, built a first floor deck, manufactured roof trusses, and raised these into position.
The second event was focussed on cladding the external walls of the house using slate and timber. Since then we have been incredibly fortunate to host visitors who have assisted us with everything from installing wood fibre insulation, plasterboard ceilings, painting, digging drainage systems, building the curved ridge and cladding the external walls.
When expertise beyond our own has been required we’ve employed local builders, joiners, an electrician and a plumber for specific tasks and we’ve played apprentice to learn from them.
What we have learned
As a rural architecture practice, we saw this build as an opportunity to showcase our skills and potential as designers. We began the build with an awareness that the effort required to build a house will almost certainly be greater than we can imagine, and this has transpired. It is, however, ultimately an empowering experience.
In ‘self-building’ we are continually confronting the limits of our own knowledge physical strength and endurance. This often feels like facing up to our weaknesses as architects and people. Consequently we look to others with skills and expertise to help us solve problems collaboratively, and we’ve certainly learned the value in having the right tools for the job! Being exposed in this way has deepened our fundamental understanding of how to design and build, and strengthened relationships with those we have worked with.
The satisfaction that comes from the act of making and collaborating continues to be a powerful source of motivation for us.
Two films of the house under construction, and other live-build projects, can be found here: www.roots.co.uk/films
“Our objective for the design is to embody the wisdom of regional details that have evolved to best resist the severe Atlantic weather, whilst taking this thinking further by employing new materials and construction methods to ultimately create a new ‘black-top’ home for contemporary island living.”