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Ecological conclusion

Form Design Group has designed an office for the Bodmin Environment Agency to adopts the client's green agenda


The space between two gaunt Victorian buildings - former barracks - has been filled with an uncompromisingly modern structure with a clearly visible ecological bias - planted roof, natural stained timber cladding - which reflects the concerns of its occupant, the Bodmin regional offices of the Environment Agency. The site, 30ha of parkland enclosed by a high stone wall, has a military history. It was once the Bodmin depot for the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry. The Victorian buildings, built in 1887 and Grade II-listed, are set against the boundary wall and face south- west towards the access road. The larger one (now renamed Sir John Moore House after the soldier who developed light infantry) had a former life as the commanding officers' residence, the other was the adjutants' mess. They are both imposing structures of local shale stone with Portland stone dressings.

Stephen Taylor of Form Design Group of Plymouth was asked to prepare a feasibility study on the space between the two listed buildings, to add some extra accommodation and to replace the original link, a dreary utilitarian walkway. The space was backed by the stone wall and had a couple of large mature trees which the architect has managed to retain. The new accommodation was to comprise an administration section and archive which would serve the two original buildings on each side.

Stephen Taylor explains: 'We wanted to avoid compromising the Victorian integrity of the two buildings, so our concept was a low, single storey and relatively unobtrusive structure, but one which would complement the environmental aims of the agency and the parkland frontage of the site. We also wanted to create a layout which would allow additional accommodation to be incorporated around the building, avoiding ad-hoc extensions.'

The new structure achieves its aims. To make most use of the limited site the plan is relatively deep, filling the space between the stone boundary wall on the north-west and the access road on the south-east. A pitched rooflight runs above the central circulation route to give natural light to inner spaces, and a single pitched rooflight is set at the eaves adjacent to the stone boundary wall; as a result artificial light is hardly used during the day. Archive and storage areas are lit with small dome rooflights. Individual offices on the south-east side have sliding timber windows shaded with timber louvres.

The new courtyard provides a good quality of light, view and ventilation to the new offices. It also acts as a potential link for future developments.

The idea of an environmentally conscious design as an appropriate method of construction was suggested to the client by the architect. To the architect's surprise it was also eagerly taken up by the planning authority, who considered that the low profile of the building and flat planted roof would reduce the impact of the new construction on the two listed buildings.

The new extension is of timber construction; green oak columns throughout and oak beams externally, using wood from managed woodland at the Longleat Estate together with Douglas fir beams and rafters. Green oak was also used as external boarding, chosen for its natural resistance to decay - Bodmin is a humid place.

To reduce embodied energy costs,'natural' materials were used as far as possible - Warmcell recycled insulation, timber cladding and infill framing. Horizontal oak boarding was used to clad the external spandrel panels; it was treated with a tinted organic coating, a combination of oil and wax. An Erisco Bauder Eco-roof was chosen by the Form Design Group to provide a highly insulated roof which would stabilise internal temperatures.

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