The Invisible House

The Invisible House

Rural Design
Colbost, Isle of Skye, UK | View Map
Project Year
Private Houses
Nigel Rigden photographer

The Invisible House

Rural Design as Architects

The original brief for the project at Colbost, a township in north-west Skye, was to replace an existing stone bothy with a new 2 bedroomed house.

In its semi-ruinous state the bothy was an eye-catching reference point by the roadside; an idealised building form in the otherwise empty stretch of rough crofting landscape. 

We suggested that the original bothy be restored and the new house built over the crest of the hill where the croft falls away dramatically to the eastern edge of Loch Dunvegan.

Our intention was that the house be hidden from the road, the original seaward view unaltered.  The clients’ brief was for the house to have some reflectivity, referencing commercial buildings as possible precedents.  After much research, we arrived at the solution of marine grade polished stainless steel, in the form of 300x600mm staggered shingles.  The external form has taken on a further layer of invisibility and now sits “chameleon-like” in the landscape.

The house is oriented to the panoramic view over Loch Dunvegan and its islets, sitting easily within the geometry and topography of the croft.  The main body of the house is a simple monopitch, hunched down against the elements with the roof, low-pitched to ensure it cannot be seen from above, angled down and leaning toward the view.  The envelope is tightly detailed to withstand the elements.

The house entrance lies within a secondary, contrasting volume to the rear, timber-clad and turf roofed, approached along the solid, sharp, south-west edge of the shiny metal shed.  Openings on this route increase to full-height but are screened with vertical louvres - only as the door is reached is the interior of the house revealed.

The eastern face, spared from the prevailing wind, is modelled by recesses underneath the roof overhang, creating sheltered external spaces.  This elevation is a mix of full-height glazing and timber cladding while a covered terrace, flanked by solid walls of contrasting steel cladding, extends the living space to the outdoors.

The simple geometrical forms - the two horizontal elements tucked up against the taller metal shed - take inspiration from the ad-hoc self-built structures that dot the rural landscape.

The simple efficient form draws in light and energy from the south west, with underfloor heating powered by an air source heat pump.  Energy is retained by a combination of a MVHR system, and high insulation and airtightness levels.

Internally the house is arranged as a simple linear plan, the metal shell housing a large full-height open-plan living space, book-ended by bedroom wings, maximising privacy for the occupants.  The shell and the dividing walls are lined with bulkheads containing services and ductwork and creating useful internal recesses.  All occupied spaces have full-height glazing to the view, the entrance wing at the back of the house containing secondary accommodation.

As one moves in the landscape, the shimmering lifelike quality of the cladding is expressed, the ever-changing reflected landscape resulting in an ever changing form.

Material Used:

1. Main external walls - stainless steel mirror finish

2. Main roof - stainless steel Ugitop finish

3. Single storey external walls - untreated larch board-on-board cladding

4. Single storey roof - sedum

5. Windows + external doors - aluminium-clad NorDan timber

6. Vertical louvres - siberian larch

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Project Credits
Product Spec Sheet

SuppliersAltree Joinery
Windows + external doors Nordan
ManufacturersSedum Green Roof
Product Spec Sheet
Windows + external doors
by Nordan
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