Cantilever building : Grand Designs Magazine Cantilever building

5 brilliant cantilever buildings from Grand Designs

These outstanding homes appear to defy the laws of physics with their overhanging structures

By Hugh Metcalf | 9 November 2021

A cantilever building is one where part of the structure protrudes beyond the rest. The structural support in only one portion of its length. It’s an architectural technique seen in several of the most iconic Grand Designs homes.

1. Shipping container home

When planning to construct a new home on his parent’s land in County Derry, Northern Ireland, architect Patrick Bradley turned to metal shipping containers for a low-cost cantilever building. The house is essentially two containers set one on top of the other, at right angles.

The upper storey overhangs the ground floor at both ends and includes a balcony surrounded by steel fins. They serve to prevent too much solar gain overheating the living space. The containers were insulated and weatherproofed to prevent the build-up of moisture that might cause the metal to rust.

The exterior of a cantilever building created by placing one shipping container on top of the other.

Photo: Aidan Monaghan

2. Periscope House

Natasha Cargill’s Grand Design is most recognisable for its symmetrical cedar-clad boxes. They both extend beyond the ground floor and include balconies providing views over the River Tud valley in Norfolk. The timber-clad periscope designs are at slightly different angles. This allows more light to reach the thermal-mass staircase and to give each wing a different outlook.

A 6kW array of solar panels on a sedum roof provide electricity, and to stop the soil pushing the semi-submerged building down the hill, gabions filled with local flint would line the building’s edge. With a budget of just £250,000, it was an ambitious undertaking.

The exterior of a house with symmetrical cantilever first floor wings. The top floor is clad in cedar boards.

Photo: Darren Chung

3. Glass house

Carl Turner and Mary Martin’s self-build in Brixton consists of a stack of three cantilevered glass-clad rectangles. The house takes up the entirety of the plot they sub-divided from the original house on the site. Its design makes efficient use of the space with a small wildflower garden on the second storey cantilever to bring greenery to the space.

They have a cutting-edge system that sends excess heat from the PVT panels down to the heat pump to improve its efficiency, and they have a tank to collect rainwater for the WCs, washing machine and outdoor taps. The house is also super-insulated and wrapped in an airtight membrane to stop heat leaking out.

cantilevered glass house in brixton from grand designs

Photo: Rachel Whiting

4. Flint House

Flint House sits in the grounds of Waddesdon Manor, built by Lord Rothschild’s great uncle Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the 1870s and made for a worthy winner of the Grand Designs House of the Year 2015. It has a distinctive stepped profile and flit stone cladding. The dynamic cantilever sections often the monolithic look of the Buckinghamshire house.

It’s made of the locally found natural materials flint and chalk, with additions of concrete, glass and metal. The three-bedroom house emerges from the ground in graduating shades of steely grey, knapped flints and is topped with blocks of smooth white chalk to blend it into the sky. Throughout Flint House there are views to other areas, emphasising the open, spacious design above middle. The sitting room looks out on to spectacular farmland on both sides of the house.

Exterior of the flint studded Flint House looking at the gable end with cantilever first floor with balcony

Photo: James Morris

5. Essex estuary floodplain

The threat of rising sea levels along the banks of the River Blackwater in Essex didn’t deter Geoff Wood from making his home on its windswept estuary. The two-storey building is surrounded by a bund wall, designed to keep out water, which provides the first line of defence against the sort of flood that happens once a century.

But should this ever be breached by exceptionally high water levels, the house would suffer minimal damage because its living areas and bedrooms are on the cantilevered first floor, which is 4.5m above ground. The plans were drawn up by Richard Coutts of Baca Architects. This is a practice specialising in climate-resilient properties such as the Grand Designs amphibious house in Buckinghamshire that rises up in the event of a flood.


Photo: Jefferson Smith