Quality counts at lead seminar

Edinburgh-based architect Richard Murphy is finally designing a house for himself. Despite being in practice for a long time, and designing many houses,

Edinburgh-based architect Richard Murphy is finally designing a house for himself. Despite being in practice for a long time, and designing many houses, this is something he has not yet done. (He has lived in a house he designed, but it was originally built for a client.)

This house is in Edinburgh’s New Town, an infamously difficult place to build anything new – particularly, one would imagine, a house that Murphy described as ‘a quarter Soane, a quarter Scarpa, a quarter Eco-house and a quarter Wallace & Gromit’. But in fact it solves an ‘end of a row’ problem cleverly, and it uses largely traditional materials – stone and lead. The lead provides the surrounds to the solar panels on the inclined roof. Too often, Murphy says, these look like an afterthought that has been stuck on afterwards even if they aren’t.

This of course would be anathema to the architect who likes to consider every detail with great care. He was speaking about this at a seminar organised by RIBA Journal with the Lead Sheat Association (which I shared). Speaker after speaker emphasised how lead allowed them to create tricky shapes, to make junctions elegant, and to work with craftsmen who left their maker’s mark on the building. None of these architects were stuck in a rut, and some were pretty young.

It was exciting to see that there are clients who are prepared to allow the time to use materials in this way, and craftsmen who can deliver the results.Sometimes, even in the age of BIM, on-site work is the best solution – although in some cases a degree of off-site making of panels took place. It was a cheering morning, especially when we learnt that lead is not the luxury material we see it to be, and that great advances are being made to stem theft – what Murphy memorably described as ‘permature recycling’.

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