The RSUA’s Liam McCormick Prize and its House of the Year Award recognise the ‘skill and mastery’ of McGonigle McGrath in working with form, space, light and material
RIBA National Award winner 2023
2023 RSUA Awards
House of the Year
Liam McCormick Prize
Hill House, County Down
McGonigle McGrath for Private client
Contract value: Confidential
Hill House is located within a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty close to the Giant’s Ring, an important neolithic site dating to around 2700 BC. Located on the gently sloping southern side of the Lagan Valley, the open aspect from the site takes in the Lagan Valley Regional Park, the city of Belfast nestled at the mouth of the river, and the Belfast Hills beyond.
The house is a demonstration of the skill and mastery of architect McGonigle McGrath in working with form, space, light and material. This is the latest in a sequence of beautifully crafted houses designed and nurtured through the process of construction by the practice. The architect has wrought a series of spaces providing ambitious and generous internal volumes that also offer domestic comfort and warmth. The sectional development of the design responds to the topography of the site and is exploited in multiple locations to manage scale and to generate enjoyment of the view and of space and light. The main living area, a large double-height volume, is skilfully designed to accommodate multiple aspects of family life within one single space. This is an exemplar of the finely honed skill of the architect in understanding how to work with scale, light and acoustics.
Sophisticated modelling of the ground plane of the internal environment relates strongly to the external landscape and topography. The floor plane of the internal space contributes to the experience of spatial containment, human scale, and the adjustment of the visual connection to the exterior and the views.
The project is detailed and built to a very high standard, clearly demonstrating the connection between high-quality architecture and careful construction detailing. The large expanses of immaculately laid brickwork would normally be interrupted by unavoidable, unsightly expansion joints. In this project these joints use a toothed detail that co-opts this mundane constructional necessity so that it contributes to the sense of craft and expression. Internal painted brickwork and joinery is precisely designed and made, contributing to the overall quality of the project using relatively modest materials deployed with care and attention to detail.
The form responds to the surrounding topography, but also references the clients’ experience of living for a time on the site in a bungalow which included a timber-sheeted butterfly roof and painted internal brickwork. The recycling of this ceiling from the original house by the clients, and its installation in the entrance hall, is a physical manifestation of the fact that this home is also a result of a strong client-architect relationship.
The character and personality of the clients are tangibly expressed within the completed project. There is a sense that the occupation of the house by those who commissioned it has enhanced its qualities, because it was made for them.
The jurors were unanimous in their admiration of Hill House and its obvious worthiness of being recognised with an award. All agreed that Hill House is an extremely accomplished example of domestic architecture of the highest standard.
To find out more about the whole RIBA Awards process visit architecture.com
Contractor: McGrady Contracts
Structural engineer: Design ID
Cost consultant: SMS Partnership