The Isles of Tiree & Coll

About Tiree & Coll

Tiree & Coll are neighbouring islands on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Situated within the Hebrides archipelago, the islands are in the extreme West of Scotland and around 60 miles West of Oban by ferry. They are remote and beautiful places with lush fertile grazing, rocky outcrops and long white sandy beaches.

Both islands have a similar land mass of around 30 square miles. Once supporting rural communities of thousands, the island's populations have declined since the Second World War. Tiree is the more populous island with around 650 residents, whilst Coll is inhabited by around 165 people.

Tiree & Coll have low-lying landscapes of sand dunes and rich machair grassland that supports a diverse variety of flora and migrating birds.  The islands are frequently exposed to extreme weather conditions; battered by fierce Atlantic winds and waves in winter, and strong sunshine in summer as one of the sunniest places and darkest skies in Scotland. 

The people of Tiree & Coll have a close relationship with the land and sea. Tiree & Coll are home to communities of crofters who are essential to the sustainability of the islands and  traditional way of life. Crofters often manage their family's agricultural small holdings in balance with several part-time jobs or voluntary work within active community groups.  Agriculture and fishing continues to be the most important industries for islands producing high quality lobster, crab, beef and lamb for export. 

Tiree & Coll continue to be popular tourist destinations and annual events have added to this.  Tiree annually hosts Tiree Music Festival and the Wave Classic windsurfing festival, and both islands run major athletic events at 10K, half marathon, and now the 35 mile Tiree Ultra Marathon


Architecture of Tiree & Coll

The traditional architecture of the islands has been shaped by the extreme weather conditions and availability of building materials. The general rule of traditional house-building on the islands is to keep your 'back to the wind and face to sun'

The Thatched House | ‘taigh tughaidh’ is a perfect example of a traditional vernacular home. It is a building that beds down into the landscape to avoid the worst of the winds. It consists of thick stone walls, often over a meter thick, with few window openings facing the prevailing wind to protect its inhabitants from the elements. The thatched roof is constructed with a curving ridge and sits within the perimeter of external walls.  This creates a very aerodynamic shape to prevent uplift of the roof during storms. The thatched house utilises what few materials that were available to inhabitants at the time; stone from the surrounding land, roundwood timber that would be imported from the mainland, turf and marram grass that would be harvested locally.  It is a true product of its environment.

The Tiree 'Blacktop' House (pictured above) marks the next stage in the evolution of the thatched house. It became popular to cover thatched roofs with tarpaulins and tar as a more waterproof alternative to thatch.  As better materials became more widely available these roofs were then coated with tar covered felt.  The thatch was omitted completely from the design, but the shape was retained and this is what has given the Tiree Blacktop house such a distinctive appearance that is unique to the island.

The White House | 'taigh-geal'  (also pictured above) was widely adopted as a new style of croft house to supersede the traditional thatch and Blacktop homes.  White Houses can be found throughout the West of Scotland.  Typically 1.5 or 2 storeys high with dormer windows and strong symmetrical facades, the White House offered a brighter and more spacious alternative to the traditional houses of the time.  As material technology had developed it was possible to use bigger windows to let more light and views into the home.  Slate roofs and rendered stone walls offered greater protection from wind & rain and required less continual maintenance. It is common to find White Houses adjacent to the Blacktop Houses they replaced as crofters were more inclined to retain their existing house than demolish it and for this reason we can still see a mix of these houses today. As shown above, some White Houses are known as 'spotted' and only have mortar between the stones rendered and painted white- this is another defining characteristic of the area. 

Settlement patterns on Tiree in particular are defined by 31 crofting townships of around 287 registered crofts. This has resulted in houses being widely dispersed across the island. The relatively flat undulating terrain of Coll & Tiree means that any building constructed here sits prominently in its surroundings and this is something we are particularly conscious of as designers.

Roots appreciate the tried and tested logic that has defined the traditional buildings of the island and helped them to endure for so many years.  As designers we take these principles as a starting point for our work and use our collective knowledge of modern, robust materials and construction methods to produce new island-hardy architecture that caters for current needs.

For more information on the history of Tiree and its people please visit the An Iodhlann website.


Creagan Cottage, Copyright Richard Whitson

Creagan Cottage, Copyright Richard Whitson

Roots Projects on Tiree & Coll

The Isle of Tiree is where Roots originates as a practice.  Micheal Holliday, Director, was raised on the island established the practice in 2010 with an ambition of providing much needed architectural services in a place very close to his heart.

Today we have an office based in Crossapol on the Isle of Tiree and this has made it more efficient for us to design and manage projects on Tiree, Coll and the Inner Hebrides.  We benefit from 'the best of both worlds' by having a sister office in Glasgow which provides additional support and opportunities for meeting clients who are based on the mainland.

We have undertaken work all over Tiree and on a range of different projects and several projects on Coll. Our portfolio includes numerous renovation and extension projects for traditional Blacktop and White Houses on the islands to provide owners with warmer, brighter and more spacious interiors from which they can appreciate views of the island landscape. [Creagan Cottage, Crossapol House]

In recent years we have had the pleasure of working with numerous clients on their new-build house projects for the islands.  Often our clients have been seeking a more contemporary style of architecture for their new island home and we have been more than happy to deliver this for them. [No.2 Greenhill, Balevulllin Beach House

We have also been fortunate enough to work with some of Tiree’s most ‘picture postcard’ buildings; including the historic water mill in Cornaig, and the Grade B listed thatched terrace at Sandaig.

Our portfolio extends beyond private commissions, as we have worked with a number of local businesses and community organisations.  We designed and built a new community boathouse through Tog Studio, our 'live-build' construction school.  On this project we collaborated with the Tiree Maritime Trust and funding was granted by the Tiree Windfall Fund. We have produced a Community Land Ownership Options Appraisal report investigating land buy-out options for Tiree Community Development Trust. We have also worked with Tiree Baptist Church and An Iodhlann to renovate their church and museum properties for continued use.

Through our personal and professional experience of Tiree and Coll we believe we have a strong understanding of what it is like to live and work on the islands.  We therefore know what our buildings have to achieve and the importance of their impact and legacy in these remote communities. 

Find out more about our approach...



 Rìoghachd barr fo thuinn’; ‘the Kingdom whose summits are lower than the waves

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