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Bumpers Oast house by ACME exterior

21st Century Houses book captures "best of the best" modern British homes

RIBA Award-winning homes are the focus of author Dominic Bradbury's latest book, 21st Century Houses. Here, he spotlights 10 of the most remarkable projects featured inside.

More than 300 photographs, plans and sketches fill the 21st Century Houses book, published by RIBA Books, to bring readers inside the "best of the best" of modern British homes.

The featured projects were selected by Bradbury, an architecture writer, consultant and author, from the past winners of the Royal Institute of Architects' (RIBA) awards.

Located all across the UK, he believes they demonstrate the diversity of British architecture, about which he said "there is a lot to be proud".

Cover of 21st Century Houses book by Dominic Bradbury
RIBA Award-winning homes are the focus of the 21st Century Houses book

"The featured houses really suggest both the depth and breadth of architectural talent across the UK," Bradbury explained.

"We selected the featured houses from the last five-plus years of the RIBA Awards cycle and it was important to us that these houses had already been through an intensive assessment process by the judges who look at the award entries each and every year."

From works by the likes of architect Alison Brooks to lesser-known studios, the houses range from one-off new builds to conversions and extensions.

Alongside them is an extensive list of top tips for homeowners considering commissioning an architect to create their own 21st-century house.

According to Bradbury, a key trend in British house design that is noticeable in the book is their sensitivity to context. With many of their featured projects referencing local vernacular and landscapes, he hopes this will be a key takeaway for property developers who read the book.

"British architects and their houses have a strong sense of context and a site-sensitive approach to design," said Bradbury.

"It would be great if property developers and large-scale house builders took more note of this in their own projects and drew more deeply upon our homegrown architectural talent."

Read on for Bradbury's picks from the book:

Bumpers Oast house by ACME
Photo by Jim Stephenson

Bumpers Oast, RIBA South East Award 2021, by ACME

"Like James Macdonald Wright and Niall Maxwell's Caring Wood house, which also won a number of RIBA awards, Bumpers Oast is a 21st-century version of a Kent oast house.

"Designed by ACME architects, it's a wonderfully sculptural and expressive house, coated in ceramic shingle tiles. Externally, the house is both contextual and eye-catching, while the interiors are beautifully organised and crafted, making the most of the shapes and volumes offered by the curvaceous, conjoined roundels.

"Bumpers Oast has been described as one of the great English houses of the 21st century."

Tin House by Henning Stummel Architects
Photo by Gavriil Papadiotis

Tin House, RIBA London Award 2016, by Henning Stummel Architects

"Henning Stummel's own family home is a wonderful example of what can be achieved on a tight, urban backland site.

"One of several great examples of what can be done with forgotten and largely landlocked sites, Stummel's house was built on the site of a former breaker's yard. Here, Stummel designed a house made up of a series of interlinked pavilions arranged around a central courtyard garden.

"The terracotta-coloured cladding combined with the garden setting gives these pavilions an almost Mediterranean feel in the heart of Shepherd's Bush. The clever formation of the pavilion also ensures privacy both for the family and for the neighbouring buildings."

The Quest by Ström Architects 
Photo by Martin Gardner

The Quest, South West Award 2017, by Ström Architects 

"Magnus Ström's studio has designed a number of superlative houses along the south coast over recent years, including a new waterside home on the Isle of Wight and this house in Dorset, The Quest.

"It's a wonderful example of a contemporary retirement home, where instead of making compromises, the clients have embraced the opportunity to build an elegantly detailed home fully suited to their own needs. The house is fully future-proofed and designed with sustainability in mind. If only more retirement homes could look like this."

Water Tower by Tonkin Liu
Photo by Dennis Pedersen

Water Tower, RIBA East Award 2021, by Tonkin Liu

"The Water Tower is a brilliant example of adaptive reuse in a rural context. The clients here took a brave risk buying a derelict water tower on the edge of a Norfolk village and then began an extraordinary adventure to convert it into a family home.

"They and their architects, Tonkin Liu, have done a fantastic job here in bringing new life to a lost building. Key moves include building a new stairway tower alongside the original building to help link it all together and support it structurally, while the winding staircase takes you past the family bedrooms to a multi-purpose, open-plan living space at the top of the tower.

"This engaging belvedere feels like a bird-hide with open views in every direction but includes all of the comforts of modern living."

Mole Architects by Marsh Hill
Photo by Mole Architects

Mole Architects, RIBA East Award 2017, by Marsh Hill

"Picking a favourite from my own part of the country is a real challenge, as we have some wonderful 21st-century homes here in the East of England.

"I have opted for Mole Architects' Marsh Hill in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, partly because the location is extraordinarily beautiful and partly because the design of the house picks up on the setting and surroundings so expertly.

"This wedge-shaped home set on a hill, looking towards the coast, is beautifully conceived and executed yet also feels very much of its place. But, equally, in terms of East Anglian waterside homes, I also love Lisa Shell's Redshank in Essex and Platform Five's Backwater on the Norfolk Broads."

The Black House by Dualchas Architects
The photo is by David Barbour

The Black House, RIAS Award 2019, by Dualchas Architects

"It feels like Scottish architecture is entering a new golden age at the moment, with a wave of new projects that feel fresh, original and specific to the country itself.

"One of the most accomplished contemporary practices is Dualchas Architects, who designed - among others - The Black House on the Isle of Skye. The waterside setting feels very special, and the design of the house makes the best of it, with the main living spaces framing a view over the water and offering a direct sense of connection with the coast, the wildlife, the skyscapes and the changing seasons.

"At the same time, the house is set sensitively upon the shoreline and does not seek to intrude upon it. The project also feels very representative of the direction currently being taken by a number of Scottish practices in terms of splicing 21st-century living with contextuality, vernacular references and sustainability."

Berkshire House II by Gregory Phillips Architects
Photo by Gregory Philips Architects

Berkshire House II, RIBA South Award 2018, by Gregory Phillips Architects

"This is one of a number of original country houses designed by Gregory Phillips Architects over recent years and one of the best.

"It makes the most of a wonderful hillside setting, bordered by mature trees, with all of the key living spaces enjoying an open vista. The inside-outside relationship is brilliantly done, including the links to the adjoining terraces at ground level and then the semi-sheltered balconies alongside the family bedrooms on the upper level.

"It's a strong, contextual design but with an elegant touch of Californian style on top."

Hannington Farm by James Gorst Architects
Photo by James Gorst Architects

Hannington Farm, RIBA East Midlands Awards 2019, James Gorst Architects

"James Gorst's Hannington Farm is an elegant and engaging example of a 21st-century farmstead.

"The house sits upon a working deer farm, where the owners have invested a great deal of time in restoring the landscape and promoting biodiversity. The house itself was designed to be as sustainable as possible, while Gorst also adopted local materials wherever possible.

"At the same time, this is an ambitious and generously scaled family home, with a clever balance of open living spaces and family retreats. The high chimneys, in particular, are a delight and reminiscent of a Tuscan hill town in miniature when seen on a bright summer's day."

Hope View House by Warren Benbow Architects
Photo by Lisa Lodwig

Hope View House, RIBA West Midlands Award 2018, by Warren Benbow Architects

"Building a new house in an open landscape carries a great sense of responsibility.

"Hope View House in Herefordshire, by Warren Benbow Architects, takes this responsibility very seriously, creating a home that is discreetly positioned in the undulating topography with a green roof that almost makes the house disappear.

"Yet, at the same time, this site-sensitive solution does not mean any compromises in terms of creating an enjoyable, engaging and well-planned family home, which offers open views of the bucolic surroundings. The house is well named in terms of offering a key exemplar of a modern, contextual home built in a sensitive countryside setting."

Maison Wedge by BGA Architects
Photo by DOMA Architects

Maison Wedge, RIBA Northern Ireland Award 2018, by BGA Architects

"BGA Architects' Maison Wedge is one of a number of alluring 21st-century country houses designed and built in Northern Ireland over recent years.

"The house makes the most of its position overlooking Stranford Lough in County Down, with the main part of this sculptural building rising upwards to meet the open vista.

"The living spaces are open and dramatic, yet another, lower wing alongside holds the family bedrooms and more private spaces. It's a wonderful balancing act but the key thing here is the way that the architecture responds to the landscape."