The Murphy House in Edinburgh by Richard Murphy Architects has been voted the 2016 RIBA House of the Year. The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) announced the award yesterday (Thursday 15 December 2016).
Richard Murphy’s own house in Edinburgh is a delightful essay in architecture. It speaks to its context with direct references to the Georgian terraces, and with a clever change of scale that is at once deferential and powerfully striking in the street. It makes great use of a small site, creating a delightful private outdoor space on the first floor, with light brought in through the roof, and a seemingly endless number of surprising spaces. It is a house that responds to the Scottish climate, opening up to the summer sun and then shutting itself down to create a snug refuge in the depth of winter. Sliding doors pull out of walls and roof shutters drop into place transforming the house from a light-filled space open to the exterior terrace to an enclosed room, where candlelight wouldn’t seem out of place. It does all this with wit and style, in an architecture that Murphy has honed over the years to make distinct and personal. It feels an intense and personal space, playful and inventive, each corner revealing something new. Full of references to his architectural heroes the building could be read as homage to architectural history. Murphy has described the house as ‘a quarter Soane, a quarter Scarpa, a quarter eco-house and a quarter Wallace and Gromit, the latter referring to the various ingenious devices in the house. In fact the house is beautifully composed and uniquely his own.
This five-level house is a surprising addition to an otherwise conservative sandstone terraced street in Edinburgh’s UNESCO-listed New Town. Built on an awkward plot at the end of a terrace, Richard Murphy has designed for himself a deeply personal space filled with tricks, surprises, and references to his own design heroes. From a hidden bath in the master bedroom and a folding corner wall, to sliding bookshelf ladders that glide around the subterranean library, this house is filled with a unique and spirited charm. Murphy, inspired by the work of the late Carlo Scarpa, a 20th-century Italian architect has created a house full of pure, beautiful craftsmanship.
RIBA President Jane Duncan said: “The Murphy House is this year’s best example of how to overcome challenging constraints – from planning restrictions and an awkward site in an urban location – to build a stunning house. Plus the architect overcame one of the biggest obstacles: a demanding client – himself!
“Nearly a decade in the making, this house is a true labour of love for Richard. Part jigsaw puzzle, with its hidden and unexpected spaces, and part Wallace and Gromit with its moving pieces and disappearing walls, this is a model house of pure perfection and a worthy winner of the RIBA House of the Year 2016.”
Richard Murphy said: “We celebrated our 25th birthday last month and to receive this award is a wonderful present with such astonishing levels of public interest. It’s our 21st RIBA award, and takes its place in a long line of awards for buildings small and large and for whole variety of types including domestic, educational, health, arts and a new British Embassy. It emphasises yet again that the practice demonstrates both great versatility and consistently high quality in all its work current and past. It’s been a huge pleasure to develop a lifetime’s themes and now it gives me great pleasure to live there.”
House of the Year judge, Philip Thorn from Hiscox said: “Murphy House was a real box of tricks with a unique, playful character. Although a small property, it was deceivingly large inside due to the clever use of space. Every room contained a surprise and the attention to detail was exceptional. The roof terrace was a real oasis of calm and I loved the long list of environmentally friendly touches. A true pleasure to visit and I would imagine a lot of fun to live in.”
Photo: RIBA House of the Year 2016, Murphy House by Richard Murphy Architects – credit: Keith Hunter