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Self-build Project Orange-designed house replaces redundant barn in Suffolk

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This steel-frame, aluminium-clad house replaces a utilitarian precast concrete and asbestos structure in an agricultural-to-domestic PDR transformation

A new house, designed by Project Orange for a couple’s retirement, has been constructed in place of a redundant barn in west Suffolk. The largest of several outbuildings adjacent to the medieval barn where the couple had previously lived, the project was completed under the changes to Permitted Development Rights introduced in 2014. 

The client decided that with questions over the load-bearing capacity of the existing frame and failing bolt connections, the concrete should be replaced by steel, while keeping the same profile and corrugated form externally.

The five-bedroom house is designed around a series of large open plan, double-height living spaces on the ground floor and a master bedroom suite off a gallery space at first-floor level.

06 new suffolk barn conversion design architect london uk project orange black barn exterior 03

06 new suffolk barn conversion design architect london uk project orange black barn exterior 03

Architect’s view

The client for Black Barn had raised a family in an adjacent converted medieval barn that is topped with what is thought to be the single largest thatched roof in Suffolk. This original property included a number of substantial outbuildings of which the Black Barn was the largest. Following changes in planning policy which allowed the conversion of redundant barns into homes as permitted development, the client approached Project Orange to reimagine the redundant structure as a new home for their retirement.

The barn was a utilitarian postwar structure of precast concrete and corrugated asbestos, yet it was fundamental to the proposals and the permitted development rules that this aesthetic should not change. A new steel structure was therefore deployed and asbestos replaced with corrugated aluminium to create a new home that remains true to its origin. The interior spaces are a celebration of light and volume with a sequence of reception areas that pivot around a central hearth and stair.

15 new suffolk barn conversion design architect london uk project orange black barn living area 02

15 new suffolk barn conversion design architect london uk project orange black barn living area 02

The project was self-build, a procurement route facilitated by the relative simplicity of the built form which required only a small number of repeatable details. Project Orange produced drawings to RIBA Stage 3 only, with the ground works and basic structural envelope detailed by the appointed building surveyor/structural engineer.

The client procured materials directly and employed both direct labour and appropriate sub-contractors while liaising with Project Orange as needed. This process resulted in the omission or simplification of some key details anticipated at the planning stage, such as the sliding screens/barn doors to the large openings which could be seen as regrettable, but which helped the client to deliver a large project to a very reasonable budget. The results are also entirely in keeping in their simplicity and robustness with the language of the industrial barn which does not rely on refined detailing.

Clearly, as the architect, one would always want to have full input through the detail design and delivery stages, but in this case the client’s commitment to the original concept designs, their willingness to change things on our advice if we felt strongly they had made a wrong turn, and the ultimate simplicity of the proposals allowed for a positive outcome.

Christopher Ash, director, Project Orange

118 [presentation ground]

118 [presentation ground]

Ground floor plan

Project data

Start on site January 2017
Completion May 2018
Gross internal floor area 570m²
Form of contract Self build, project managed by client with direct procurement / appointment of subcontractors
Construction cost per m2 £1,900
Architect Project Orange
Client Private
Structural engineer/surveyor Whymark and Moulton

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