The barn at Wycoller Hall - which featured in a Charlotte Brontë novel - has undergone a tasteful renovation Wycoller Hall, near Colne in Lancashire, appears in Jane Eyre as Ferndean Manor - the walk from Haworth to the village of Wycoller was a favoured route for the Brontë sisters.
Today, the hall is a picturesque ruin but little else has changed. The medieval village houses and farm buildings, and the stream with its 13th-century packhorse bridge, have been carefully restored and are preserved as part of a country park run by Lancashire County Council (LCC). The footpath from Haworth is now, of course, 'The Brontë Trail'.
Cross over the bridge, pass the hall and you come to a magnificent stone barn. Built in the 1630s using an earlier oak cruck frame, it is an aisled structure on massive oak columns. Its large openings, which once gave a through breeze for threshing, were adapted in the 19th century to take the carts and coaches of the manor; today it houses a new visitor information centre.
A competition to design the centre was won in January 2001 by a young practice, Hakes Associates. The design had to respect the rich palimpsest of rural history which is the barn interior. The solution is a low-profile, unassuming new insertion - almost like a piece of furniture - which enhances the unique spatial qualities of the barn.
A cumaru hardwood timber deck, raised on legs and reached by a ramp, runs the length of the west wall without touching it. It is flanked by a 1,800mm-high display wall of Cor-Ten steel, with illuminated display panels and openings that are carefully positioned to show details such as the oak columns in a new light. The wall also acts as the backrest to an oak bench, where it is fitted with a concealed heating element.
Along the south wall, the deck becomes a stage for dance, theatre or art installations.
At the south-east corner it curves up to form the back wall and roof of an information kiosk, enclosed with glass walls to form a secure, temperature-controlled environment. The curve is formed of Cor-Ten 'trays', bolted together to form a cantilevered plate.
The roof restrains the glass walls but is not supported by them. The robust, durable qualities of Cor-Ten match the rough timber and stonework of the original construction.
Deck, wall and kiosk are mounted on adjustable legs to minimise the impact on the barn fabric, to allow for the considerable slope of the floor, and to deal with floodwater from the nearby Wycoller Beck.
Apart from the kiosk, the barn interior is designed as a sheltered, but unheated, space.
The large opening in the west wall is not weatherproofed but is protected with a pane of 19mm toughened glass set 50mm outside the plane of the wall on projecting stainless steel brackets that are fixed in turn to resin anchors drilled into the wall and lintel.
Large elements of the scheme were made off-site. Hakes Associates worked from the outset with Pro Craft, a shopfitting specialist with experience of installing prefabricated elements on difficult sites.
Repair and restoration works were carried out by local craftsmen using reclaimed timbers and stones from the site. Ecologically friendly products include sheep's wool insulation, water-based timber preservatives and a cumaro timber deck from Forest Stewardship Council approved forests.
The design respects the past and allows for diverse activities. The ramp and kiosk can be adapted for drama presentations to school groups; the public can wander through to pick up information in various forms; and the lone walker will find a warm wall and bench on which to rest on a winter's day.
CLIENT Lancashire County Council Heritage Trust for the North West
ARCHITECT Hakes Associates: Julian Hakes, Cari-Jane Hakes, Antonia Bromhead, Yama Kazuya, Kelly Van der Toorn STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Whitby Bird & Partners
CONTRACTOR Pro Craft
SUPPLIERS Cumaru timber deck Eco Timber; door ironmongery Dorma