Architect Kirsty Maguire explains what you can be doing to progress your house build plans, before you even have your plot of land.
Interview with Kirsty Maguire
A building by Kirsty Maguire, of Kirsty Maguire Architect Ltd, won the UK Passivhaus Award 2014 in the Best Bespoke Design category, for Hayshed Passivhaus Farmhouse in Ayrshire. Specialising in Passivhaus and eco-architecture she works predominantly on private domestic schemes but also commercially, with charities and the United Nations. Based in Dundee the majority of her projects are in Scotland but her work also takes her to other parts of the world.
Using the example of Ben's ongoing and so far unsuccessful search for a plot of land for his own self-build, Kirsty explains there are still things you can be doing to put your building project in a good position for the future, even before you have your site.
A feasibility study will put you in a strong position when bidding for plots of land
By considering factors such as site constraints and other negatives of an otherwise reasonable plot, Kirsty explains that you might be able to take on a trickier site which other people might be put off by.
Consider what are you looking for from your new home
This would be the first thing Kirsty would discuss with a client. Initially it would just be general ideas before sitting down together and going through what a client wants from their home in more detail. She would ask the client to describe a little about their ideas and dreams for it, for them and their family. They would cover how they would like to use the house, the atmosphere, the relationship with the landscape, how the house might be used differently as children grow up and eventually move away, or perhaps considering reducing energy bills if the client is downsizing.
At this stage it's not necessarily about coming up with solutions or design.
As this conversation develops, Kirsty is able to build up a good understanding of the client's needs and get into the detail of what makes them tick.
Initial sketches are produced
The initial questions stage turns into more of an ongoing dialogue and Kirsty is able to start working on some sketches. Ideally there would be a plot at this stage, but even without it Kirsty could begin developing conceptual sketches looking at relationships of spaces in a home, the atmosphere and the feeling. Kirsty stresses that an important part of designing a home is its response to the landscape so without the land there's only so far this stage can go.
As part of the discussion process Kirsty would ask about the client's ethos towards Passivhaus, eco-materials, energy and comfort. It is helpful for her to understand these for each of the members of the family in case they have differing priorities and ideas!
A client scrapbook of ideas can also be a benefit to the designer. Kirsty says it isn't essential but it certainly does help and she would encourage a client to bring it to the meetings if they have one. It can help with some of the less tangible elements of designing a home, such as acoustics and atmosphere, and what makes something really feel like a home.
Kirsty also finds it can be helpful to understand a client's current home and therefore how that's informing their reactions to their new house.
Understanding the budget
As part of the feasibility stage, it is important to understand from the outset what the available budget for the project will be. While Kirsty is not a cost expert, she can use experience from other projects to establish roughly what might be feasible to ensure that time and emotional effort in the project are not wasted!
Looking into the budget, Kirsty can help to establish what amount is available for construction costs, what might be needed to set aside for fees and expenses for the plot, and also suggest the client gets an idea of how much it would be to bring services onto the site. That can then be broken down into what's available for the build itself and apply a pounds per m² rate, based partly on looking at what was appropriate locally.
Particularly if there is a site already, they might sit down with a quantity surveyor to work out two or three cost options based on the budget. This helps people prioritise what they would like to do, and indeed whether they are still happy to progress.
There are other site specific considerations
Other things which can only really be considered once the plot is known, are things like planning restrictions and whether it is in a conservation area. Kirsty also talks about access to the site, ie, it could be a great plot but there might be difficulty getting cars onto the site. She also explains that some planning policies require your garden to be a certain percentage of the plot. “So if you know that 60% of your ground has to be garden you've got a house of a certain size you need parking and access then that starts to dictate the size of plot that you need.”
The feasibility study is a worthwhile process, whether or not you have a plot
“In terms of the feasibility study, I think it's great to do that whether you have a plot or not. I think it sets out the basis of the entire project so that people can really enjoy the design stage, knowing that some of the absolutely critical elements such as budget, planning, some of the if you like drier sides of it but essential to the success of a project, are in place and are addressed right from the start so it creates a great foundation for everything from there on in.”
Hayshed Passivhaus Farmhouse
While not directly related to the main subject of the podcast, Ben didn't want to pass up the chance of asking Kirsty about her award winning Hayshed Passivhaus Farmhouse project!
The client, Duncan, had a plot on his farm land in a stunning location with the building being designed to look out over Arran, Ailsa Craig and the sea over the west coast.
He already had outline planning permission when he came to Kirsty. Although a farmer he is also a contractor himself, and had a strong vision and artistic ideas about what he would like on the site, and was very interested in low energy and Passivhaus buildings. Being on the edge of a cluster of farm buildings, they followed the idea of using traditional buildings and landscape to influence modern design and decided to expand the cluster in a more vernacular way by adding a building which looked much more like the traditional hay sheds.
Being one of the first Passivhaus buildings in Scotland had its challenges but the enthusiasm of Kirsty, Duncan and the contractor carried the project through successfully. It was a very collaborative project and for all the members of the team there was a can-do attitude. “It was more about how do we go to the next stage and how do we do that the best way possible.”
Find out more
Hayshed Passivhaus – Winner of the Bespoke Project Design category at the UK Passivhaus Awards 2014
Podcast guests 2016
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