Malcolmson Architects

Grunnabreck is located in South Nesting, a rural area containing clusters of traditional painted croft houses and modern timber clad dwellings. The landscape is characterised by rocky outcropped hills and fertile crofting land sweeping down to a rocky shoreline with shingle and sandy beaches. Wildlife is abundant with otters, seals, seabirds and , during the summer months , killer whales. Neolithic homesteads and standing stones close by tell us that the site, a south facing grassy slope with spectacular views over the Bay of Skellister, has been lived in and worked for thousands of years.

The brief for the project was to provide an economical, energy efficient home which will maximise daylight and provide an environment which will enhance the health and wellbeing of the occupants. The building should respect the landscape in which it sits and maximise the connection with the surrounding environment.

All too often modern rural housing in Scotland does not sit as well in their surroundings as the more traditional croft houses which seem to be part of the landscape rather than sitting in it. Grunnabreck attempts to use the lessons learnt by the builders of this traditional housing such as attention to orientation, a knowledge of the building’s microclimate and using the existing topography to their advantage.

The building itself is based on the exact dimensions of the Viking longhouses which were unearthed at Jarlshoff in the south of Shetland. This type of plan allows the building to follow the topography and therefore nestle into the landscape. Spatially the longhouse suits a modern lifestyle remarkably well. One room deep the living spaces are arranged around a central hearth which divides the lounge area from the kitchen and dining area. Externally the house is essentially single story however the internal volume is expressed all the way to a central roof ridge beam over the dining area which enhances the feeling of space in the first floor bedrooms. The modern obsession with the ensuite bathroom is resisted with the space given over to a more Scandinavian approach of well proportioned and usable rooms. The master bedroom at ground floor level therefore forms a family of rooms with the main bathroom and a study. These rooms are subdivided by full height sliding and pivoting doors which allows the feeling of space to flow into the living areas.

Ancillary and storage is concentrated on the north facing wall acting as a buffer zone to the cold. The living areas are entirely glazed to the south which not only takes advantage of the spectacular views, allows a direct relationship with the outside through sliding glazed panels but it floods the house with natural light.

The building is super insulated and very airtight. The ground floor is lined with slate which absorbs and retains the passive solar gains through the south facing windows. This increased thermal mass combined with an exhaust air heat pump has eliminated over heating in the summer and over cooling in the winter ( combined with the central stove which burns driftwood and peat). Running costs are therefore very low for a house of this size.


South Nesting
United Kingdom


Iain Malcolmson


Iain and Suzanne Malcolmson






  • Residential