AN architecture practice which designs kit homes based on a traditional Hebridean style has unveiled plans to more than double in size, and called for further automation in the construction industry.

Dualchas Architects was formed in 1996 by twin brothers Alasdair and Neil Stephen and the Skye-based practice is celebrating its 21st anniversary with a rebrand that its founders hope will expand its HebHomes division from 40 kits per year to 100.

The founders also said further automation was required to offset future skills shortages and make housing more affordable.

HebHomes was launched in 2007, the same year the firm opened its Glasgow studio, and ten years on, Alasdair Stephen said it was time to give value to Highland architecture.

A contemporary longhouse, based on the traditional single-storey blackhouse dwelling which was common in the Hebrides around the time of the Highland clearances, was designed by the practice to offer an affordable alternative for clients looking to build on acquired land.

“The idea of the new blackhouse was very important,” said Neil Stephen. “We’re trying to give value to Highland architecture. The architectural thread was cut with the clearances and the blackhouse was seen to be the emblem of poverty.”

With the bi-lingual studios speaking English and Gaelic, the brothers believe that the current revival in Gaelic culture should have architecture, as well as language, at its heart.

“One of the most obvious parts of culture is architecture,” said Neil Stephen. “Civilisations are judged in the future by the architecture they leave behind. Our view is that it was important that architecture played a part in that revival, and you could say it is now.”

In line with this philosophy, the company’s new branding will feature a charging goat, with Mr Stephen explaining that whilst families were cleared across the Highlands, the domestic goat remained, becoming feral in the remote glens, and coming to be seen as a symbol of resistance and survival.

“We’re quite ambitious about HebHomes,” said Alasdair Stephen. “The first few years of the business, it was supported by Dualchas, we only did a few a year. Our aim is to do 50 or 60 kits a year now and we want to increase that to 100.”

That will also help the overall business double its turnover to around £2.5 million.

The rebrand coincides with a move from a structurally insulated panel (SIP) system of materials to the more sustainable cross laminate timber (CLT).

There are five main ranges from which clients can select a number of slightly modified kits, while a full turnkey solution is also available. Prices start at about £120,000 and for those with a suitable budget, Dualchas can be appointed for a bespoke design.

The majority of kits are sold in the north of Scotland, but Alasdair Stephen said there was now a wider geographical spread, with the east coast and Borders areas seeing more buyers. Ireland and parts of England have also increased orders, while the firm has shipped homes to the Caribbean and New Zealand.

“We’re trying to get more out there, make it more cost effective and bring it to a wider range of folk,” said Neil Stephen. “Far more people are likely to build a kit house than hire an architect.”

Mr Stephen said off-site manufacturing was a growing trend in the industry, but more was required.

“New housing is pretty much unaffordable for a lot of people already,” he said. “The industry has to face up to this problem and architects have to take the lead. There has to be more off-site manufacture. More factories using automation and robotics, so the people building the houses can do twice as many.”

While HebHomes is a growing part of the business, the brothers said Dualchas was also increasing headcount and business, and is expanding from its traditional residential base.