Chapter 4 ~ Rural Housing Guidebook – What’s the big idea ?


This next chapter is probably one of the most difficult aspects to nail down; the title of the chapter is ‘What’s the big idea’, with the main premise that every good house should have (at least one) main concept or ‘big idea’. What do I mean by this?

Well,when you look at a house,you should be able to say “ah, I see what the architect is getting at here,the _____________(fill in the big idea here) is very clever and totally appropriate”.

Call it an architectural X Factor if you will, but there need to be something with a spark of originality that sets your house apart from the rest.

The problem in Ireland is that the general public have confused good design with the bolting on of a architectural features. Rather than espousing the ideas put forward in this book/blog; the general public seems to choose a design based on how many bays there are facing the road, what type of bay windows the house has, which bits of the facade are veneered in stone and a whole host of other inconsequential features that are inappropriate and frequently in poor taste.

The argument arises between public and client in that surely your home is your castle and that you should be entitled to put in bay windows if you want them, in whatever style that you like. Unfortunately the world doesn’t work that way and whether we like it or not, the planners are having a say in the architectural design of our homes. Personally, I am generally happy with this situation in that society does need checks upon what is built in the environment (especially in a rural setting). The problem I have is that the concept of ‘inappropriate design’ quickly descends into a series of stupid rules that are often inappropriately adopted, interepreted or make no sense whatsoever.

The purpose of this blog/book therefore is to try and demolish some of these ridiculous rural planning rules. The rules given below are for the area I work in, which is the west of Ireland but I am sure you will have your own stupid planning rules for whatever part of the world you are in:

1. External chimneys

The planners have decreed that external chimney give a cleaner line to an end gable (which I’m not arguing with) and that they were more traditional in rural houses. Last year I had to amend a chimney position on a house (image below) from external to internal following a Further Information planning request from the council. The traditional cobblers cottage that was in the same curtilage had a chimney, guess where it was – yes, it was on the outside of the gable.


In some instances (maybe not all) an external chimney looks completely acceptable as in the example shown below:


House at Foxford, Design Copyright Paul Keogh Architects

2. Unusual shaped glazing

I know that rectangles are quite nice shapes but surely there could be instances that a non rectangular window may be appropriate – a blanket ban on anything out of the ordinary is again ridiculous and I’m afraid that the argument ‘it would be OK at the back of the house’ doesn’t wash with me; what do they think will happen if the general public sees something that’s a little unusual, faint or die ?

Again look at the excellent glazing at the Mimetic House by Dominic Stevens, completely breaks all the rules but is completely appropriate and beautiful.

3. Glazing at the front of the building

Again another bug bear of mine; if you can give a good explanation for a larger amount of glazing to the front (eg glazing to the south for passive solar gain) via thermal performace calculations (PHPP, SAP or DEAP for example); then I can see no reason why you can’t have larger glazed sections in this area as long as the client understands the privacy issues.

So the next series of posts will give examples showing houses with a ‘big idea’ and then explain why the idea is clever and appropriate to its environment…

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