Startfell Restorative Rural Retreat
“Startfell Retreat is one of those rare projects which appears to emerge out of the earth, providing a sense of permanence and protection for the clients to live with, and amongst the elements of the weather, wildlife and ecology” – Will Foster, Co-Founder of Foster Lomas.
Foster Lomas has completed a unique house set in a seven and a half acre site on Startfell Mountain, the Isle of Man. The retreat is the result of a unique collaboration between the clients – a retired scientist and a retired teacher with a broad range of specialisms and interests in insect neurology, zoology and biological science, the architect Foster Lomas and the local charity Manx Wildlife Trust.
The client’s commitment to the project was born out of their deep respect for the island’s new status as a UNESCO world biosphere region. The project forms part of a master plan whose vision will see the addition of a Visitor’s Centre, also designed by Foster Lomas, serving as an important educational platform about biodiversity.
The design of the retreat is constructed using drystone walls, meticulously executed by local craftsmen. The walls weave through the site and are embedded with a three quarter open bed to allow local ecology to inhabit the voids. This creates a synergy with the land, reinforced by the use of stone harvested from the site.
The careful attention to the characteristics of the existing nature can be seen in all aspects of the design. A weather station was installed on the site a year prior to construction to gather important data, ultimately driving the form of the building.
Carbon-capturing hay base and native wildflower planting create the house’s biodiverse green roofs, complementing the drystone walls and further blending the dwelling with its environment.
The new construction arranges the bedrooms on the lower ground level accommodation, where deep reveals puncture the walls demonstrating the mass of 620mm walls. On the upper ground level, the living floor engages with the expansive views across the landscape and as far as the coast, with a ribbon window reminiscent of a scaled up bird hide.
The windows are set back and framed with Corten steel plate, preventing solar gain and reducing reflections. All the spaces are ordered around a staircase core forming a triangular plan which cunningly houses the library.
Running throughout the three levels, the ‘Knowledge Centre,’ as the library has come to be known, is at the heart of the scheme. It signifies the long-terms vision that the clients have for the place and for future generations of scientists, educators and wildlife enthusiasts.
The drama of the staircase is topped with a clerestory which frames the study whilst capturing the shifting light of the island throwing shafts of luminescence into the core and animating the concrete interior. The poetic orientation of the staircase aligns the ascendance with views up to the mountain, whilst the descent directs views down into the valley.
The original Manx cottage, a local trademark named ‘Cloud 9,’ next to the new construction, was taken back to its original form and is fully disabled compliant.
To date, the project has won three RIBA Awards: RIBA North West Award 2019 – the island’s first, RIBA North West Sustainability Award 2019 and RIBA National Award 2019. It was one of six finalists for the AJ Architecture Awards House of the Year 2018 and is now on the long list for RIBA House of the Year Award 2019.