The house has a precise, geometric presence, amplified by taut, flush panes of glass and extremely crisp roof details, “to tighten the wildness of the meadow,” Scullion says. “I wanted to use fibre cement slates for their planar quality. They give a sheer flatness to the roof that natural slates wouldn’t have.” The verge is particularly sleek, thanks to the use of aluminium trims. There is a clear stand-off gap between the photovoltaic cells and the slates. I ask about the customised gutters. “At Chipperfield’s, we went to extraordinary lengths to hide gutters and downpipes,” he says. “Instead, I wanted to work with folding a piece of metal and looking at how it meets the ground, so the rainwater pipes and columns have the same dimensions. The gutter is 200x80. I originally had it at 300x80, but the engineer said the snow load would be too great. I’ve always been an architect who thrives on site. I love the making of it,” he says, adding that he comes from a long line of labourers, chippies and sparks from mid-Ulster, in rural Tyrone.
Despite all its careful, sharp precision, there is also a softness to the house that comes, I think, from its rootedness in the earth and a restrained decorative instinct in some of the detailing. There is no plinth. The brick rises out of the earth. The living room is set down into the ground. [I ask about mobility concerns and am reassured that the floor can easily be raised if ever that is required.] There is a brick chimney in the room; you can see around it to the meadow. The patio perimeter has been moulded and shaped to bring down the scale and form an ‘engawa’ space along the edge. The deep brick bench, sometimes inside, sometimes outside, is thermally broken. The patio expands the sense of space in the rooms surrounding it, which also enjoy morning clerestory light, another borrowing from the Kingo Houses, but here the light is also softened and stretched by rolling the ceiling gently into the wall, as at Utzon’s later Bagsværd Church (1976).
And the little hints at decoration? “Oh, the laths? They come from that Gottfried Semper idea of implying structure – it’s Semper via Sergison Bates. Robert Payne is friendly with Jonathan Sergison. I like to be relaxed about it.” Deservedly so, after such a fine debut. Declan Scullion is up and running.