A Scottish architectural road trip

Stone and larch single storey house on the Isle of Skye by Dualchas Architects | Design Hunter

This summer we decided to head to The Highlands for a week long 'campervan and culture tour'. We're guessing that we are hardly alone in dreaming of one day owning our own contemporary rural retreat, situated in an appropriately dramatic landscape, so we decided to use our holiday as 'research'. Finding interesting buildings was easy enough thanks to Dezeen, the Scottish Festival of Architecture and Google.

In today's post Graham shares some thoughts on the architecture we discovered along the way.

*      *      *

Camper van on Scottish road trip | Design Hunter

Above: Our 'home' for the week.

Our adventure began in Glasgow and took in over 700 miles of spectacular scenery and contemporary architectural design that turned out to be both breathtaking and inspirational. The plan was to visit a wide range of buildings situated in the North West of Scotland, but most importantly we would do it in an easy going fashion - meandering with a purpose, rather than following a strict daily itinerary. This was a holiday after all, and we wanted it to be enjoyable, surprising, scenic... filmic even.

If an adventure at your own pace is the thing you're looking for then a modern camper van offers liberation through the freedom to roam. You can hire them from a variety of companies in Scotland, most offer a range of sizes and layouts to suit differing needs. We opted for a long wheelbased camper from Atlas - a modern, manageable go-anywhere, park anywhere temporary home on wheels. Albert whippet came along too and was as happy as Larry on his own seat (covered in his regulatory luxury fleece blanket).

The weather was generally good - being so high up in the UK you never know what might be thrown at you. Yes it did rain occasionally, but it was also glorious too, along with 'not bad', ''OK' and 'uh-oh'! The weather in this part of Scotland is literally ever changing, often every five minutes, but for us this was all part of the experience, as the drama from up above only added to the adventure down below, and of course a camper van is an ideal base to retreat to when the weather is a little unpredictable.

Pyramid shaped viewing platform at Loch Lomond by BTE Architects

Above: Pyramid shaped viewing platform at Loch Lomond by BTE Architects.

Most of the architecture we visited or spotted was refreshingly modern. What we noticed most was that the buildings took on contemporary stylised forms of humble buildings such as barns, sheds and traditional crofts, with houses often taking on the simplest of shapes, similar to those a child might draw. They have the same reassuringly familiar forms, but are reinterpreted through contemporary styling and materials, paired back and stripped of unnecessary ornament. They simply are what they are.

Black contemporary house near Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye | Design Hunter

Above: Black house near Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye.

Contemporary timber clad house on the Isle of Skye | Design Hunter

Above: Timber clad house on the Isle of Skye.

Contemporary home on the west coast of Scotland | Design Hunter

Above: Contemporary house at Camusdarach Sands near Mallaig.

The more we visited, the more we realised that they epitomise an increasingly emerging West Coast style that we've witnessed over the past decade or so (we've both been up to the Highlands a few times now). Successful architectural practices have been at the vanguard of this bold but fitting style and full credit to them, as the results are buildings which are contemporary, affordable, easy to build and on a human scale, derived from the local vernacular into exciting new design solutions that fit so well into the dramatic landscapes of North West Scotland.

Contemporary timber clad house on the west coast of Scotland | Design Hunter

Above: House at Camusdarach Sands near Mallaig by Raw Architecture Workshop.

Contemporary timber clad house on the Isle of Skye | Design Hunter

Above: Stone and larch single storey house near Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye by Dualchas Architects.

The West Coast of Scotland, often desolate and no doubt rather bleak in the cold winter months, seems to positively accept buildings such as these, providing ample space and a context within which they can be fully appreciated. Wooden cladding and corrugated metal skins dominate the style and no doubt hide super efficient insulating materials to keep everything cosy and snug once the wood burners are lit. Extra large windows frame extra large views, offering ever changing cinematic views to both entertain and stimulate philosophical ideas about place and time. The typical absence of gardens - why would you want one here? - also means that nature is literally on your doorstep.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given Scotland's proximity and historical connections to the northern continent, these buildings also have a definite Scandinavian feel about them. With their wood burning stoves, simplicity of materials and a DIY style and ethos they suit our idea of a contemporary rural escape. They are conceived through a refined self-build style, even though the design and build is often realised through an architect.

By the end of the trip we were repeatedly asking why these types of homes aren't being more widely built in the rest of the UK. Could Scotland be leading the way in human scale, contemporary, contextual, affordable and downright desirable buildings? In terms of providing rural housing solutions we certainly think so, and full marks to Scotland for getting on with it, moving things on and showing the rest of us what is possible.

Stone and larch single storey house on the Isle of Skye by Dualchas Architects

Words by Graham Powell & photography by Design Hunter.