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Turner Works reimagines railway yard as community ‘start-up campus’ in Ashford

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Turner Works – previously Carl Turner Architects – has transformed unused light-industrial buildings into a co-working and event space 

The Coachworks project, sited close to the international train station, was developed in partnership with Ashford council. The site has been developed as a series of work spaces including a co-worker incubator, together with flexible indoor and outdoor event spaces. It can also be transformed into a food and drink destination during the evening.

In a light-touch renovation, Turner Works, who took on the role of Design & Build contractor, stripped out asbestos, restored the steel-frame shed, and used a combination of robust, low-budget materials including OSB3 board and plywood together with vivid paintwork and translucent cladding to create a bright new environment. 

Turnerworks coachworks 06 12 2019 drafts 35

Turnerworks coachworks 06 12 2019 drafts 35

Architect’s view 

Turner Works (as Carl Turner Architects) won a design competition to reimagine a rundown group of buildings known as the Coachworks, as a mixed-use campus for start-ups and to create a new type of centre for the communities of Ashford and Kent.

The buildings were derelict for several years and in many respects set a poor tone for Ashford being located directly opposite the international station. The key ambitions for the project were to repair the fabric of these historic industrial buildings, physically link the town centre to the station and change the narrative of the town (known locally as ‘Trashford’) instilling a sense of positive change. From our perspective it is rare to be given such an open brief.

The most striking design element is the translucent cladding to the new Hothouse, a repurposed 1960s steel-framed engineering shed (the whole site formed part of a former railway complex). Here we have stripped back the asbestos, restored the steel frame and given it a lick of signal yellow paint, then reclad with a new skin. This shed now houses a split-level mix of food and drink spaces (by night) affording a plethora of community and other uses by day, and it kicked off with a Christmas market (currently no market operates in Ashford, which grew up as a market town).

The Corn Store has become a workspace consisting of a range of self-contained studios and a co-work desk area. Materials such as OSB3 and plywood have been deployed for their warm tones and value for money along with timber credentials. Our approach was to paint the interior white to create a brighter interior and lose many of the existing white plastic conduit fittings we had to work around. This is a light-touch renovation doing the most with the least to keep rents as low as possible and create a neutral backdrop for the occupants to inhabit and personalise.



Exploded axonometric

The third building, The Corn Mill, has not yet been refurbished due to budget, but hopes are this will come forward as a later phase once the need is established. The Yard now ties the buildings together and forms a new publicly accessible space in Ashford, and the entrance into both buildings. We have added a sprinkling of containers to the yard for food and workspaces, and a summer stage area. Eventually this will become more heavily planted and will host a programme of summer outdoor events.

The council has funded the design and capital costs for the construction works and through negotiation Turner Works agreed to take on the role of Design & Build contractor (the competition took the project to Stage 3 and a planning application). These negotiations also hinged around who would run this type of project as in many ways this is the most difficult aspect of a mixed-use campus; part-private, part-public, a mix of enterprise and community. In the end, we agreed that it made sense for Turner Works to set up a local company called Coach Works Ashford Ltd to take on a five-year lease and run the site in partnership with the council, which we have duly done. Thus our role has expanded from design, through construction and into a position as medium-term custodians of the site. I think we are expanding the idea of what are architects do, or, can do.

Our first tenants are moving into the workspace, we are learning lessons from past ventures and are running the bar ourselves. Our launch weekend kicked off with a light show about the history of Ashford organised by the council to coincide with a market organised by community interest company Kent Food Hubs, who is one of the first ‘anchor’ tenants to move in; it has set up a food collection business (sort of click and collect) for fresh farm produce, unpackaged, direct from local growers.

This project is not about design; it’s about creating accessible, affordable space, space for dreamers to have a go and fail if necessary, but also about coalescing a community of like-minded people around a set of shared ambitions.

Carl Turner, founding director, Turner Works

Turnerworks coachworks 06 12 2019 drafts 15

Turnerworks coachworks 06 12 2019 drafts 15

Project data

Start on site May 2019
Completion December 2019
Gross internal floor area 1,045m²
Form of contract Design & Build
Construction cost £800,000
Architect Turner Works
Client Ashford Borough Council
Structural engineer EOC Engineers
M&E consultant Max Fordham
QS Jackson Coles and Cost Plan
Fire consultant Astute Fire
Project manager Cost Plan
Approved building inspector Harwood
Main contractor Turner Works
CAD software used Vectorworks

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