Concept house takes flight into fantasy

THE NEW kid on the block at the Ideal Home exhibition is guaranteed to cause the net curtains in the adjacent show houses to tweak. It is called the Oyster by its architect Nigel Coates, but from some angles it looks more like a stealth bomber landed inside Earl's Court.

With its cross-shaped deck and shallow oval pod upper-storey perched above the all-glass ground floor, this family house for four owes more to the aircraft industry than a mollusc.

Although he is the professor of architecture at the Royal College of Art, and his list of clients includes the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and Industry, Nigel Coates is not a name you would normally link with the relentlessly untrendy Ideal Home exhibition, held annually in west London. But he likes to play to big audiences, and so he entered a competition sponsored by Blueprint called Concept House.

Coates's creation does not need gutters and soil pipes and any of those awkward plumbing pieces that might spoil the lift-off of its copper-clad roof. The copper will eventually verdigris which will soften its impact in the leafy suburbs where Coates hopes it will find a home. None of the showhouse builders at the exhibition wanted to prototype it. Instead, London Electricity helped to get one off the ground to generate interest. If enough of the 500,000 people expected to visit this year's exhibition want to see one in their cul-de-sac, then it will be possible to manufacture components for on-site assembly. Coates estimates that they could then sell for pounds 100,000. "The idea is to make a fresh, energy-aware prototype for the expanding homes market," he says.

The all-glass downstairs is panelled with sections of Privalite glass which turn from clear to opaque at the flick of a switch. A liquid crystal coating activated by an electrical impulse makes the change. Coates furnished the house himself with straightforward easy pieces, which are much more comfortable than they look.

Open-plan living can be exacting with two children. So Coates planned two staircases to turn the upstairs wing into two separate units. There are insulated shutters and flimsy voile screens filter light indoors to provide surfaces for images beamed on them from projectors which the architect calls "moving digital wallpaper".

Downstairs, a sandy brown camouflage pattern called "desert storm" gives street cred to the urban guerrilla.

The exhibition opens today.

Design, page 19