Grand Designs: House of the Year, Channel 4, review: Another year, another shortlist of outlandish houses that don’t represent true British architecture

By Barbara Speed Opinion Editor at iNews

The House of the Year competition has rolled around again, and the homes on display are as outlandish as ever. A water tower turned into the Thunderbirds’ HQ! A house inside a 14th century stone keep! A house built on top of another, less attractive house!

The competition, run by the Royal Institute of British Architects and with its shortlist and winner revealed via Grand Designs, does at least nod in the direction of sustainability and functionality.

The Thunderbirds-style “Water Tower” in King’s Lynn preserved a disused structure, and alma-nac studio’s “House-within-a-House” in London is much better insulated than the 1950s home it swallowed up. But the competition rings oddly in its designation of “House of the Year” when the shortlist couldn’t be further from what most of us live in.

House within a House, one of the buildings shortlisted for RIBA’s House of the Year competition (Photo: Channel 4)




Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud seemed painfully aware of this fact as he ran through the longlist of properties in the “surprise” category. He proclaimed rather unconvincingly that the gargantuan, expensive “House-within-a-House” is the “template of a modern family home” after learning that its fancy oak floors withstood regular skateboarding.





Pele Tower House (Photo: Channel 4)



Pele Tower House’s architect was praised for letting light in despite the original windows being designed purely for shooting arrows, and for managing to surround its swimming pool with a mortar-free stone wall at huge expense. Not issues faced by your average homeowner.






The word “house” has complicated associations, and on the basis of this competition, is not to be confused with “home”. It is not clear whether the winning project here will be commended for its architectural wizardry, or for its ability to improve its owners’ lives and inspire future, better iterations of the sorts of houses the rest of us occupy. I fear it will be the former.

UK housing is in short supply, and is too often badly constructed, a health risk or made from deadly materials. There are scores of problems worth architects’ time; I’m not sure House of the Year tackled any of them.

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