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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Grand designs

Ross, you have an amazing house. How does it all work and where did the idea come from?
It is actually quite a simple structure, although difficult to describe in words. The easy way is to look at the short video online (look on youtube.com and search for ‘sliding house’). The basic idea is a conventionally-shaped but mainly glass house, giving 270-degree views over the local countryside and up to the big Suffolk sky. There is a separate roof structure sitting over the top of the glass which moves on rails so that, when closed, it can offer shade or insulation and when open it allows for panoramic views.

The idea came from the architect, an old school friend. The design details were the result of a collaborative effort between us. Arranging for it to be re-designed so as to cost less than 200% of my original budget was down to me, as was getting it built within that revised budget.

One challenge was the doors and windows. In whichever position you put the sliding roof, each door, window and skylight lines up with an aperture in the roof structure to provide access and light. The whole building had to be designed on a symmetrical grid to make this work. That took some design effort.

Actuaries are cautious by nature...
Did you perform the necessary risk-adjusted cost-benefit analysis when embarking on your decision to build your own house?
Er... no.

What is the best thing about living in a house with a retractable roof?
The light — you don’t realise how dark many houses are until you live in a light one. Many people have been perplexed when I have remarked how great our weather has been recently — it took me a while to realise that it was just as overcast as usual, but it seemed sunnier because the living room is 100 times brighter than most rooms.

Training to be an actuary takes years. Building your own house can take a similarly long time. Which was the greater challenge?
Training and indeed practicing as an actuary required an intense effort. I am proud that I did it, but recognise that it is quite a narrow intellectual pursuit. Building a house requires a whole range of skills: engineering, construction and organisation. I was probably better at being a practising actuary than I am as a designer/builder. It has been a long-time ambition to do this, and realising that ambition while learning new skills was very rewarding.

Have any actuarial skills been of particular use during the process of building the house?
To be honest, my 1976 O-level in woodwork was more immediately relevant.

Your architect has managed to get a lot of media publicity from this. How are you finding your newfound celebrity status?
We have had an intense period of interest from the architectural and general media, but once something is reported online, it gains a life of its own. Now I read things I am supposed to have said to people I have never met, and even in languages I don’t speak. It’s a wonderful thing, the Internet.

You run your own trusteeship and consultancy firm and have more or less finished building your own house. What next for Ross Russell?
I’m not sure at this stage. But it won’t be building another house just yet!


Recommendation of the month
DJ Spinbad ‘90s megamix
In these times of increased austerity, this is an amazing album that can be downloaded (legally) for free. DJ Spinbad is a truly gifted hip hop DJ - what sets him apart is his willingness to stray far from traditional hip hop when constructing a mix. This one cuts together a range of hits from the ‘90s with film and news clips to create a 60-minute meandering trip through the ‘90s.

Client entertaining
Nicolas - Tower Concourse,
1 Canada Square,
Nicolas is a renowned wine merchant, and this branch has the advantage of an attached French restaurant and wine bar. Pick a bottle of wine, pay a £1 corkage fee and enjoy with a selection of French cheeses for less than £20. Value for money in Canary Wharf? Who would have thought?
Ross Russell: http://www.therussellhouse.org/


Matt and Finn welcome your comments and contributions. Please e-mail arts@the-actuary.org.uk