A look at the 2019 RIBA House of the Year

4 years ago
2 minutes

A home in rural Ireland has claimed the Royal Institute of British Architects’ House of the Year award for 2019. 

The fairly unassuming residence, named House Lessans, was built on the “tightest of budgets”, but received one of the nation’s biggest prizes.

With the use of concrete and a grey palette, the design does draw parallels to Cloister House, Hawthorn House and House in the Hills, who all picked up National Awards at the recent 2019 National Architecture Awards in Australia. This is perhaps a sign that judging panels around the world are favouring this kind of façade. 


The home, which stands on the site of an old farmstead in County Down, was chosen over six other architect-designed buildings vying for the annual RIBA House of the Year prize.

Designed by Belfast studio McGonigle McGrath to meet the needs of a semi-retired couple, House Lessans is designed to complement the neighbouring agricultural buildings. To achieve this, white-rendered concrete walls are mixed with darker zinc roofs. 


This deliberately simple design and construction kept the price down, without sacrificing the visual quality of the façade. The result — House Lessans cost just £335,000 ($636,600 AUD), equivalent to £1,425 ($2,700 AUD) per square metre.  

RIBA president Alan Jones said the home was "executed with incredible clarity and restraint".

"House Lessans demonstrates that life-enhancing architecture does not have to cost the earth," he said.


"McGonigle McGrath have used simple and cheap materials to create a truly bespoke home that resonates with its owners and its context. Even with the tightest of budgets, House Lessans shows that a dream home, designed by a talented architect, can be a reality.”

This simplicity is continued indoors, where a suite of three bedrooms and communal living spaces are designed to focus on the views out over the landscape via large expanses of glass. 


“The house represents a paradigm in creating relevant contemporary architecture that truly reflects its local context, vernacular and culture,” said John Pardey, who chaired this year’s award.

"It has an elegant simplicity achieved within a remarkably low budget without excesses, creating delight in the subtly changing volumes as well as its relationship between the inside and outside," Pardey added.


"The house takes the daily business of life and with the architects' skills in making a house from simple materials, carefully detailed and with precise alignments, succeeds in becoming not just a house, but more importantly, a home."

House Lessans was the second project by McGonigle McGrath to have been shortlisted for the prize, following House Maghera's nomination in 2015, which lost out to Flint House by Skene Catling de la Pena.

Click here to read the social housing project that claimed the Stirling Prize earlier this year.

(All image credit: Aidan McGrath)