The idiosyncratic aluminium airfield house
It took a decade to complete, but this unique Grand Designs project was worth the wait
Colin MacKinnon and Marta Briongos’ Strathaven airfield home in South Lanarkshire, Scotland, was voted one of the 10 best new buildings north of the border by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland.
Colin, a former journalist, together with his partner Marta, run a microlight flying school from the airfield. The RIAS judges described this steel and glass home and workspace as cheerfully idiosyncratic. They also said the ‘light, airy and joyful building’ fitted in perfectly with its semi‐industrial hangar neighbours.
The couple have named the house Aluminia Meadownia because it’s clad in corrugated aluminium and the airfield looks like a wild flower meadow in summer.
The architect flies in
Before moving to the airfield full time, Colin commuted from their previous home in Glasgow. As he and Marta already owned the land, building a house on the site seemed a logical step. Edinburgh‐based architect Richard Murphy’s design inspiration came from local agricultural and airfield buildings, alongside the work of Australian architect Glenn Murcutt. Glenn is known for his rugged aesthetic and use of precision‐cut steel. Richard, a keen microlight pilot, flew himself to the site.
Three section layout
The first floor has the traditional 20th century Scottish layout of three sections. These include a bedroom and living room at either end of the space with the kitchen in the middle. This floor is where the couple spend most of their time. Consequently, the living room is overlooked by a mezzanine office platform, which Marta uses as an art studio. There’s even a swing for Marta to practice her aerial gymnastics.
‘I am an aerialist enthusiast and love to see the world upside down and hang from anything – and the beams are just too tempting!’ she said.
On the ground floor are three en‐suite guest bedrooms for the couple’s children, Iain and Alba, and their partners. Since the house was built they now have young grandchildren, so one bedroom has become a playroom with a futon. Vivid hues of orange, yellow, purple, pink and lime green stand out against the walls and floors. These are an expression of Colin and Marta’s ebullience. The bright colours additionally act as a guard against the occasionally overwhelming openness on the other side of the windows.
‘In aviation, everything has a purpose – too much extra stuff and the aircraft won’t get off the ground,’ says Colin. ‘Our house is like that. We have lots of space upstairs, which we enjoy every day, and then a modest front door, entrance hall and small guest bedrooms.’
But the project did not lack imagination or ambition. ‘The house is big and the only way they could afford it was to organise the build themselves – which they did with heroic determination,’ says architect Richard Murphy. Colin and Marta’s easy‐going approach to life and their artistic flair belie the hurdles they had to leap during the ten‐year process to finish their remarkable project.
It took some persuasive argument to justify granting planning permission for such a distinctive rural home. When the scheme eventually approved, it was on the grounds that it was necessary for their business for Colin and Marta to be on site at the airfield. A catastrophic fire in 2010 in one of the hangars caused £850,000 of damage. Moreover, it took the couple five years to agree a final settlement with the insurers, meaning work had to be suspended because of cash-flow problems.
Then the build went over budget by nearly £30,000, so Colin and Marta made the tough decision to sell some of their treasures. This included a painting and a large Lalique vase. ‘The budget was calculated so that we could finish without a mortgage, and we have managed to achieved that,’ says Colin.
One of the most important investments the couple have made has been the house’s energy efficiency. ‘Colin describes insulation as his pension plan: we spend the money now, and then we won’t have need so much cash when we are older to keep the place warm,’ says Marta. ‘We have a wood‐fired boiler for heating and all the lighting is LED.’
After 10 years, to finally finish and be able to enjoy their house marks the end of a long adventure. But Colin remains pragmatic. ‘It’s done, and now we just have to maintain it. Any building that’s out of the ordinary will take longer and cost more than you had envisaged. We simply spent money when we had it, and stopped when we hadn’t. Building a house is a journey, and you are allowed to make stop offs. It is only one part of your life.’
While it must get noisy with aircrafts and exposure to the elements, the couple finds it all part of the charm. ‘We love being snug in the TV room watching a movie on a wild, windy day. Or, enjoying the summer glow in the sky after sunset from the living room,’ says Colin. ‘And did I mention a long soak in a huge bath that measures two metres by one metre? We planned the house to make the most of things, whatever the situation, and it really does achieve that.’