House in Assynt

Low impact timber home treads lightly on Scottish landscape

About this project

Located in the north west of Scotland, with spectacular views across Loch Nedd and the mountains of Quinaig, the award-winning House in Assynt is designed to sit lightly on the landscape.

Nestled above the loch between two rocky outcrops, the warm and inviting home was designed to have minimal impact on its environment and no rock was broken in the property’s construction.

A modular build for a remote site

The two-bedroom home is situated in a remote location in the North West Highlands. To address the complexities of building in such a location, architect Mary Arnold-Forster collaborated with modular construction specialists Carbon Dynamic to assist with the technical design and the build.

As access to the plot was via a single-track road, the house was designed in modules that could be easily transported and was subsequently assembled in just four days on site.

With each module designed to fit on the back of a lorry, the dimensions of the individual modules informed the design of the house which is divided into three separate pods that are each linked by a top-glazed corridor.

The living space including kitchen, living and dining area is the main pod which is made up of five separate modules. The master bedroom with en-suite and utility room are made up of four modules, and the guest bedroom, shower room and store were constructed from a further three modules.

Use of timber

The house was constructed using cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels insulated with wood fibre. Burnt larch rainscreen cladding covers the exterior, contributing to an air-tight envelope that means very little heating is needed to keep the home warm.

The CLT panels offer a light and smooth finish to the interior of the bedrooms and living spaces, with doors also built from CLT. In contrast, the linking corridor is lined in pine that mirrors the burnt larch exterior.

Full-height glazed doors open out onto a decking area, further enlarging the living space in the warmer months of the year and bringing the outside in.

Bringing nature indoors

The long central corridor gives way to panoramic views of the loch and the mountains and with the hills and heather close by, the property becomes an extension of the natural landscape.

Meanwhile, the spaces, ceiling heights, use of light and positioning of windows all work together to provide an enlightening and uplifting space that embraces nature and yet protects from the harshest elements.

Designed for reuse

House in Assynt was positioned to avoid any rock breaking and no ground bearing slab was poured. It was also designed so that no wet services cross over the individual pods so that the house could potentially be taken down and moved.

Built almost entirely from timber, the individual components and panels could be re-used. Likewise, the Linoleum floor could be re-used and the kitchen could be dismantled and re-used. The house has no central heating system and instead is heated using electric panels and a wood burning stove. The cladding is built as a rainscreen so that the panels can be lifted off and repaired or reused.

Reducing operational and embodied carbon

The project adopted a fabric first approach, focusing on high levels of insulation and airtightness, high performance windows and minimising thermal bridging via the structure. Low u-values were achieved via 220mm woodfibre board enveloping the external walls and roof and 285mm of cellulose insulation and woodfibre board between timber joists in the floor.

All materials and components were subject to a vetting process to assess their embodied carbon throughout the life cycle of the building, including; material extraction, product manufacture, transport miles, durability during operation, and then repurposing, reusability and recycling.

The majority of the building fabric used timber, including the CLT structure, cladding, windows and doors and internal linings. All the timber except the CLT structure and internal lining was home grown timber. Timber for the CLT and the internal lining was sourced from European FSC forests. As a result, the material extraction and transport miles were reduced to a minimum.


Images: David Barbour

Key contacts


Winner of RIAS Awards 2021 and shortlisted for RIBA House of the Year 2021


Mary Arnold-Forster Architects

Structural Engineer and Contractor

Carbon Dynamic


David Barbour

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