House of the Year: a cave of wonders worthy of Wallace and Gromit

By Oliver Wainwright

Richard Murphy’s Edinburgh townhouse, named the best design of 2016 by RIBA, is a maximalist bricolage of sliding doors, pulleys and peepholes

When he’s lying in the bath on the top floor of his house in Edinburgh, architect Richard Murphy is in a good position to survey the surrounding scene. The skirting board slides back to reveal a peephole slot down into the living room, a motor grinds into action and the ceiling opens up to the sky, while another lever is pulled and the entire corner of the building swings open, exposing his bathing body to the street. In this slipping, sliding transformer of a home, awarded House of the Year 2016 by the Royal Institute of British Architects this week, you have to be careful where you tread.

“I think I missed my vocation as a caravan designer,” says the portly 60-year-old architect, as he deftly slides along his bookcase on a steel ladder, before flipping open a secret hatch in the staircase to pick up the day’s post. On a six-metre deep site at the end of a sloping Georgian terrace in Edinburgh’s New Town, he has concocted a three-dimensional spatial riddle that speaks of a lifetime of coming up with ingenious solutions to tight historic contexts, carving out a richly layered world that revels in its playful architectural tricks. A friend of Murphy’s has dubbed it the “Rubik’s cube house”, but it feels more like climbing through a game of snakes and ladders: one wrong move and you could be catapulted out on to the street.

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