September sees us celebrate our architectural masterpieces and masterminds. Here, Seamus Shanks - architect, co-founder & CEO of dRAW Architecture, and owner of Unique Homestays properties Elemental and Usonia - welcomes us into his world. 


What initially attracted you to both Usonia and Elemental?

Certainly the environment was the major attraction to both properties. Architecture and design is one thing and is a possibility to create anywhere... but to have a perfect site is a rarity. Both buildings are an extension of their environments and offer the ability to live within without being exposed.


To the left is Elemental in Loch Rannoch, to the right is Usonia in Melrose


What are the design similarities, and differences, between them?

Both Elemental and Usonia are modernist houses conceived in the same period and with the same ideologies. The nature of the sites enforce the differences between them and how they react to their environments. Fundamentally, however, they are conceived against the same principles of architecture. Both buildings respond to their context and give the opportunity for open plan living. Due to the extent of glazing, Elemental does this on an impressive scale.


Usonia has a history peppered with architectural greats including Hamish Bremner and Ron Russell – what influences did they have on this build?

Both are great architects so it isn’t surprising that the building itself is so good. Elemental is no different having been conceived by Eric Reich, who went onto found Reich and Hall (a major influence in post 1950s Scottish building and to this day).

The influence, however, stems from the great Corbusier. His principles of modernism are encompassed in both buildings. There was a period of architecture where such principles were so badly interpreted and essentially used as an opportunity to build as cheaply as possible. These houses are an example of what Corbusier was trying to implement in his beliefs towards modern architecture: centred on simplicity and geometrics. 


The interiors of Usonia in Melrose, Scottish borders


Can you tell us some more about the design inspiration for Elemental?

The design is purely contextual. It responds to the movement of the sun and the direction of the prevailing wind. The levels respond to the movement of the site and the openings focus on the views across and down the loch towards the mountains.

Form and material-wise, it is heavily catered towards the original owner it was built for. A Danish businessman who wanted the Scandinavian influence to be clear and present within the build.


The interiors of Elemental in Loch Rannoch, Scotland


What distinct elements are archetypal of you as a designer, or of dRAW?  

There is no ego within our approach towards either building or the design. In both cases here, all we wanted to do was create something that the original architects would have been proud of if they had the opportunity to do the same thing with the current availability of products and building techniques.


Can you tell us about your journey to becoming an architect, and later CEO and Co-Founder of dRAW?

It is a long process. Certainly the experiences along the way and the places it takes you are something you don’t quite appreciate at the time. There are moments that stay with you and influence your future thinking.

dRAW was an organic beast that became what it is as a result of the work that we do. I suppose this is as much as you could hope for. There was never really any plan as such. As with any building, the foundations were there and we have just kept building from them. 


What do you love most about your line of work?

Seeing the work you produce is of course rewarding. If at least one piece of work along the way inspires someone for the better then that is the reward we strive for.


What has been your favourite build to date, and why?

We built two new-build houses next door to each other in Streatham, South West London. They are real pieces of architecture. What is incredible is that they have paved the way for what was once a fairly dingy street to become proud and looked-after as a result of how they look. This is the real power of architecture on full display. The impact they have had on the immediate area is actually quite unbelievable.


What does good design really mean to you?

In a sentence it is an ‘obvious and subconscious quality that you may or may not be able to put your finger on’.


Are there any other properties on the Unique Homestays portfolio that you find architecturally impressive or inspiring?

Clearly the quality of Unique Homestays properties are high, so I think all are pretty inspiring in their own way. Fjall in Dorset is amazing. 


To the left is Usonia in Melrose, to the right is Elemental in Loch Rannoch

Read more about Seamus and dRAW Architecture. Or book a stay at Usonia or Elemental.