Ted Cullinan's Self-built House

When Ted Cullinan showed slides of his house to the School of Architecture in Toronto (many years ago) I was entranced- it was modern, yet it fit right into the neighbourhood. It was so logical- the living space was upstairs, closer to the light and where doing longer spans is easier, while all the walls chopping up the bedroom area below support the floor above more easily. He built it with his own hands.

According to his firm's website, "Ted and Roz Cullinan still live in the house that they built with family and friends in three years of weekends in Camden Mews, north London.

"Our house is built against the party wall along the north side, and its indoors and its outdoors are made of the same bits, occupying the whole space within the solid frame created by the north and south party walls and the ground. It has a private closed plan downstairs and a long gallery above. The levels are connected three-ways; by formal front steps, by internal stair, and by a long ramp."

Now he has been awarded the Royal Gold Medal, described as "a gift of the Queen made by the Royal Institute of British Architects and still one of the most prestigious of today's design prizes"

He builds sustainably; Jonathan Glancey in the Guardian describes the Weald and Downland gridshell: "far from being some strident look-at-me design magazine fodder, this captivating rural building is made from strips of green timber, is much liked by the Prince of Wales, and is about as genuinely "sustainable" as contemporary architecture gets. Cullinan is proof that an architect can be "green" without being tweedy, embarrassingly "right-on", or plain archaic."

But clients have not beat a path to his door for more sustainable buildings worthy of postage stamps. Glancey continues:

Why, though, has Cullinan and [engineer] Happold's rural masterpiece not been reproduced elsewhere? "Cost, really," Cullinan says. "In the long term, this building will prove economical to run. It doesn't need painting, although one day we'll have to remove some of the moss from its south side; it needs virtually no artificial lighting during the day. It recycles rainwater. It's immensely strong, and there's nothing to blow off or away in a storm. But here we had exceptional clients who really care about architecture. Most potential clients would opt for the sort of portal-framed timber building you can see advertised in Exchange & Mart.

"Good architecture does demand money. The buildings we did for the University of East London [alongside London City Airport], for example, look great from 50 metres away, but when you get up close you can see the effects of 'design and build' construction, meaning that the architect is not responsible for the building works. The details just aren't good enough. The level of craftsmanship is far too low." ::Guardian and ::Edward Cullinan Architects

Tags: Architects