CORPUS Magazine

Out of the box

Dream home in Northern Ireland


It is the most publicized private construction project of recent years in Northern Ireland. How Patrick Bradley achieved the impressive feat of converting his lifetime design into a residence – fully integrated into its natural environment and its owner’s home territory. Patrick Bradley's family have been living at the same place in the County of Londonderry in Northern Ireland for over a century where they work the land and graze cattle and sheep. A year ago, he still lived with his parents on their family farm – and now he stands on the balcony of his own home that he has built just a stone's throw away. Sheep graze on the hills and, on the horizon, the deep green of the countryside meets the blue sweep of the sky. The view from the balcony is magnificent, a little above the tree-tops of the adjoining woods. A few meters down the slope is the Grillagh River. Whether Bradley has called his home "Grillagh Water House" for this reason alone or also because the core material of his domicile spent many thousands of hours at sea in its previous application he won't say.


1: The gray perforated steel used on the upper element is said to recall stormy Irish clouds, and the lower element blends in with locally occurring basalt.

2: Using four used shipping containers, Patrick Bradley has made his lifetime dream of his own four walls come true.

Northern Ireland's laws allow farmers to build what they want how they want on their own property. Bradley, a successful architect as well as being a farmer, seized this opportunity to realize a special construction project – his own home built with used shipping containers. The 32-year-old, who studied at Queen's University in Belfast, is convinced that containers as the raw materials are much less expensive than conventional building materials. Which is not unimportant, as his budget is limited from the outset. With a loan and his entire savings, Bradley masters a sum of €140,000 to make his vision come true. Used shipping containers can be purchased for €3,500 to €4,000. Bradley purchases four 45' containers, and for just €14,000 obtains the floor space for a small single-family house: 133.6 m2. It looks like he's got his calculations right.

However, the custom construction project also calls for a custom insulation solution. The walls of containers are not smooth but corrugated. This wavy design ensures strength and stability but also makes conventional insulation impossible, as the application of insulation panels would create cavities. In addition to reducing living space, this would also mean that moisture could form between the insulating material and container wall. Architect Bradley opts for WALLTITE® Spray Foam Insulation as a way of killing two birds with one stone. Sprayed straight onto the surface, the bright purple spray foam creates a uniform insulation layer and cures within only 5 seconds. It adapts effortlessly to any contours, penetrates effectively into any crevice and creates full-surface insulation while taking up minimal space.

Bradley aspired to make his house part of the landscape. Critics of the project doubted whether this would be possible, unable to imagine such an out-of-the-ordinary building blending into its enchanted riverside location. Locals call this stretch of the Grillagh River "Pixies' Paradise". How could a modern container house merge into this rural idyll? Undaunted, the architect stuck to his guns. Construction took only ten months, with punctual completion in September 2014. By now the building had severed all visible ties with its original material. It is fully clad, the upper part with gray perforated steel recalling the hues of stormy Irish clouds, while the lower element bears the rusty ocher of the basalt rock that occurs naturally nearby.

100% – or maybe slightly more for this application. It’s really worth installing the right insulation as it will save energy for the lifeof the building.

Patrick Bradley

Personal expression was also important for the building owner, as he had long been searching for the special place for his new home. He leads two different lifes, one as a farmer at the feeding trough and another as an architect in his office. Since setting up his own business Patrick Bradley Architects, he has become one of the United Kingdom's best-known architects specializing in sustainable and custom construction. And the design by this likable out-of-the-box thinker has given equal consideration to both aspects. The house is situated on his own land, right next to grazing livestock. And accommodates not only his living quarters, but also his office with its drawing board. The exactly 13.7 meter long upper section of the house culminates in a balcony with a stunning view of the wild countryside to the south. It's worked, for the special location in the wilds has lost none of its dignity and is even enriched by the unique Water House on the Grillagh River. In the end it cost its creator close to €184,000 to make his vision come true. He wouldn't want to live anywhere else, he says. Ever.

Grillagh Water House has won 2 RIBA Awards. A Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Award is recognised internationally as one of the most prestigious architectural awards!

Critics doubted it would be possible to make the house part of the landscape. But Bradley succeeded in merging it into the surrounding idyll.

WALLTITE®, the high performance insulation employed in the Grillagh Water House project, truly is a one of a kind application. Being a spray foam, it can be applied directly to the surface, creating an even, cavitiy-free insulation layer that cures within seconds.

CORPUS wanted to find out more about this success story and about how this extraordinary insulation came into being. Pierre Couture of BASF Canada has been part of the WALLTITE® team for over 26 years and one of the driving forces behind development efforts. We met WALLTITE®’s initiator at the WALLTITE® presentation in China and took the opportunity to talk to him.

CORPUS: Mr. Couture, how did the idea for WALLTITE® come about in 1989?

PIERRE COUTURE: In 1989, various spray foam insulation systems were already established in the market. Therefore, our aim was to differentiate ourselves from conventional suppliers and create a unique product. First of all, we managed to attract attention with our idea of adding a blue dye to the polyurethane foam. We also learned that so far, no other foam insulation manufacturer had obtained certification from the Canadian Construction Material Center (CCMC), which operates under the Government's auspices. This meant that we had discovered a niche market for ourselves. In today’s world, no foam manufacturer would launch a spray foam insulation product without this certification – simply no one would buy the product. Given this -- BASF Canada set a trend in this area.

CORPUS: In what way has WALLTITE® changed the Canadian building sector?

PIERRE COUTURE: WALLTITE® has made spray foam insulation into a competitive product on the insulation market. Our product was the first to obtain CCMC certification as an insulating material and vapor control and air-tight barrier in one. Conventional insulating materials usually cannot be applied straight onto the surface – a peel-and-stick membrane and a separate vapor control barrier are required as well. This means there are three steps to the finished insulation. WALLTITE®, on the other hand, insulates in a single step as the spray foam is applied straight onto the surface.

1: Sheep are a common sight in the irish landscape.
2: The buiding owner leads two different lifes: One as a farmer and another as an architect.

CORPUS: What in your view is WALLTITE®'s outstanding attribute?

PIERRE COUTURE: Spray foam insulation is often claimed to be bad for health and the environment. We openly challenge this claim and are more than willing to answer critical questions. Because, in addition to the CCMC certificate, WALLTITE® has been awarded numerous others verifying its safety – including the EcoLogo and the Greenguard Gold certification. The latter means that our material can be used in areas where people react particularly sensitively to chemicals and environmental contaminants. WALLTITE® is therefore also used in schools, and the Greenpeace environmentalists have even insulated their office in Toronto with it. This is why we chose the frog as symbol for WALLTITE®. The frog is very sensitive towards environmental influences and thus reflects WALLTITE®’s claim to improve quality of living.

CORPUS: Safety is an important issue in the construction industry. Sprayfoam insulations are being widely discussed. What does that mean for WALLTITE®?

PIERRE COUTURE: For this reason, BASF has launched a complementary quality and training program which is part of the WALLTITE® offer. Applicators are trained and educated about the correct use and application of WALLTITE® and only trained professionals are allowed to apply WALLTITE® on-site. The WALLTITE® team is on hand to assist with any technical queries and field trainers ensure constant professional usage on-site.

CORPUS: How do you see the future of construction?

PIERRE COUTURE: We have good reason to be somewhat concerned about the future. Our buildings still consume too much energy and the construction industry is responding too slowly despite the Government's earnest efforts. I am proud that BASF has conscientiously taken up these challenges with the means at its disposal. We have the resources to find new ways of making construction better and more sustainable. And we can pass on these solutions to all our partners in the construction sector.

CORPUS: Thank you, Mr. Couture, for this interview.


Biography in brief

Working in the polyurethane industry for 36 years, Pierre Couture is celebrating his 30th anniversary at BASF Canada this year. During this time, he has held various positions ranging from Technical Sales Representative to Business Manager. For the last two years, Couture has been working as Business Development Manager for BASF and is responsible for the development of new materials, the refinement of existing ones and for opening up new markets. Back in 1989, Couture and his team developed WALLTITE® high-performance insulation. He was subsequently in charge of the global marketing strategy for the new product and played a prominent part in the design of the quality assurance and training program for users of the spray foam insulation system. In 2009, he and his team received the BASF Global Excellence Award for their outstanding work.

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WALLTITE® from BASF is a foam insulation system for internal walls, floors and roofs that provides a seamless airtight solution, which, unlike conventional insulation materials, is spray applied.

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