MARY ARNOLD-FORSTER - ARCHITECT SPECIALISING IN WILD AND REMOTE ENVIRONMENTS
“My work as an architect and my passion for exploring North West Scotland combines so beautifully, I am really lucky.”
After an idyllic summer climbing holiday in the Cuillin mountains on the Isle of Skye, Architect Mary Arnold-Forster was inspired to leave London and build a new home on the Hebridean island. She bought a small plot of land in a remote corner of Skye and built her dream house based on the structure of an agricultural shed with views of Loch Eishort and the surrounding islands of Canna and Rhum. Over the past two decades, Mary has specialised in working on architectural projects in some of the most remote and wild sites in the Hebrides, designing restrained, quiet buildings based on traditional Highland agricultural structures that are sensitive to the landscape. A passionate hiker, kayaker and climber, Mary finds inspiration for her work on adventures exploring the coastlines, mountains and trails of the Hebrides.
Do you find inspiration from your work when you are kayaking, biking and hiking?
I am not an endurance athlete but enjoy outdoor sporting activities and in North West Scotland have kayaked every little inlet, biked every road, and hiked every mountain. Part of the reason I enjoy working on remote and wild sites is pure hedonism; they tend to be perfect places for hiking, biking and kayaking. My adventures inform my work - if you are working on architecture that emerges out of the landscape it is important to see the landscape for yourself. I like to camp at sites and see them during different seasons and times of the day, it allows you to really understand the landscape. Work and adventure come together; I don’t stop or start either of them; one is not an escape from the other. My work as an architect and my passion for exploring North West Scotland combines so beautifully, I am really lucky.
What is it about North West Scotland that you find so special?
I recently went on a kayaking adventure to circumnavigate the islands of Colonsay & Oronsay. We were wild camping on secluded beaches and kayaking with porpoises swimming alongside us in 28-degree heat. There is nowhere I would rather be when the weather is like that. In Scotland you have the right to roam, that freedom to go anywhere and explore, which shouldn’t be underestimated, it is not something you find anywhere else.
Is it fair to say that a key aspect of your designs is sensitivity to the surrounding landscape?
I try to encourage other architects to look at landscape. I am always looking at man’s imprint on land, from a ruin to a stone wall, I find that really interesting. The clients that come to me are generally modest, quiet and restrained people. They don’t want to make a big imprint on the landscape, they want the building to be new but also be of the place. I am interested in the scale and proportion of the architecture and how it sits within the landscape, but still very happy using modern technologies.
What are you trying to achieve with your designs?
I like restrained, simple, quiet forms that frame beautiful views. I work with materials that you find in the countryside and have a low impact on the environment that can be turned into beautiful architecture. You can see from my portfolio of work that I do a lot of projects based on agricultural buildings that are very abstracted. You will also see that the buildings are always quite small - people don’t need huge homes - I don’t understand why people need acres and acres of kitchen units.
Is your architecture intended to lift people’s spirits?
Good architecture should always meet the brief and budget but also lift the spirits. When you hand over a finished building to the client, there is always something they notice that they didn’t know they wanted at the outset. For instance, one client recently told me about a shaft of light that comes through the kitchen every morning; that is not something that I designed although light is always a very important aspect of my work.
Have you noticed a growing interest from people in living in remote and wild locations?
I have noticed that lots of people now have lives where they can work remotely and the notion of working until you are 60 and the retiring no longer exists. I am all for it!