A new prefab prototype on a Scottish island demonstrates a smart—and superlocal—approach to building in far-flung locations.
The Isle of Skye is a remote sprawl of rock, covered in heather and pocked with dark lochs, off the western coast of Scotland. It is rain-scoured, lashed by wind, and jaw-droppingly scenic. “It’s a beautiful part of the world,” says architect Alan Dickson of the Skye-based firm Rural Design. “The downside of that beauty is that land is expensive and very difficult for young people to afford, so they’re leaving the island.” In 2010, Dickson and local builder James MacQueen came up with a solution: a small timber-frame prefab design called the R.House, which can be constructed quickly and tucked onto less expensive lots that don’t appeal to well-heeled holiday homeowners. “We proved to local authorities that not every house had to be a white palace,” Dickson says. “Instead, little houses like ours can fill the gaps.”
The houses, evoking the simple agrarian barns and outbuildings of the Highlands, are mostly made from materials sourced in northern Scotland. That, Dickson said, was critical to the project, because he wanted to keep jobs and money circulating in the region’s economy. “It’s local prefab,” he says. Roughly 70 percent of the components of each house are built inside a large shed on the island, which protects the builders from the elements. The wood-clad exteriors are then constructed on-site in as little as a day. “For six months of the year, the weather is really quite dreadful here, and trying to build in a 100-mile-an-hour gale doesn’t help,” Dickson says. “The biggest benefit of prefab is that we can build inside, faster.”