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Ian O’Brien gets OK for Cotswolds house after ‘epic journey’ through planning

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Ian O’Brien Studio has won approval for a 499m² house in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty after an ‘epic journey’ through planning

The Banbury-based practice, which was founded by former Make architect Ian O’Brien in 2014, describes the home at Langley Farm in Winchcombe as ’a modern interpretation of local Cotswold vernacular’.

The £2.1 million scheme will replace an 300m² house previously used by grooms working at the stables on the farm.

The six-bedroom family home will be clad in thin-coursed local walling stone, with the lower ground floor ’semi-buried in the hillside to reduce apparent scale and to create a rooftop terrace’.

O’Brien described the planning process as an ’epic journey of revisions and emergency meetings’ to get to a scheme the local authority would accept, adding that the ’planning officer [was] to be commended for sticking with the application and allowing us to develop the design’.

Work is expected to start on site in July and complete in late 2021.

Img 1546

Img 1546

Architect’s view

Our clients gave us the brief to create ‘a new house that belongs in the Cotswolds, but that is clearly of the time that it is built’. The design is a modern interpretation of local Cotswold vernacular which uses the sloping site and local topography to create a deliberately picturesque building grouping nestled into the landscape with twin gables that peek through the surrounding trees to address long-distance views.

The Cotswolds is unique among English Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in that it’s a landscape people visit as much for the buildings as the hills and sweeping valleys. Buildings are, in a real sense, accepted as part of the natural landscape here and cherished as a result.

So we took as our starting point the relationship between local built and natural forms, looking at a number of vernacular Cotswolds buildings, how they relate to their site and interact with the local landscape, including how they present themselves to distant views.

The final design is a modern interpretation that draws on a number of 17th and 18th century houses that occupy a sloping site, present a gabled main frontage and use landscape as a means to embed the house in the setting.

The new house is conceived as a two-storey dwelling, sitting on a linear stone plinth. The partial basement structure of the lower ground floor acts as a mediator between the house and the hillside, blending the higher level contours into the roof of the lower ground floor to merge into the landscape.

Would the planners have accepted anything more modern? A very good question

Would the planners have accepted anything more modern? A very good question. The planning officer was actually very supportive of what we called a ’controlled language’ of refined, modern details such as hidden gutters, square-headed cast dormers, frameless glazing and timber screen panels.

However, the council did push back on a number of things they considered too alien to the local vernacular and which we subsequently deleted, such as a freestanding square chimney stack, a projecting planar entrance wall, the use of metal around dormer windows and flush parapets. The phrase ’incongruous and alien’ was often wielded. So, they’d like to think yes, but no is probably the right answer.

It was an epic journey. We should say that the planning officer is to be commended for sticking with the application and allowing us to develop the design during the original application process. She fought behind the scenes to keep the boat afloat and was a quiet champion for the design within her department.

In terms of areas, the existing dwelling is 300m² GIA and the new house is 499m², so much larger. It also has an extra storey compared with the existing. The key planning policy for replacement dwellings in the AONB requires the replacement dwelling to be of ’similar size and scale’ with a further clarification that this normally means the same number of bedrooms.

Long section

Long section

We argued for the increase in size and area on a number of fronts. The replacement dwelling policy restrictions for ’similar size and scale’ are landscape protection policies – the landscape impact should therefore be the litmus test, not the arithmetic of an internal areas comparison.

The landscape impact was positive – the design of the existing dwelling helped us as the white, rendered walls and hipped roofs were considered alien to the local typology; the above-ground footprint of the existing and proposed buildings is the same. Using the topography to slide the lower ground floor accommodation into the hillside means there is no loss of overall garden space when compared with the existing dwelling.

1803 photo existing house in context

Existing house in context

Existing house in context

Project data

Location Langley, Gloucestershire
Local authority Tewkesbury Borough Council
Project type Residential
Client Private
Architect Ian O’Brien Studio
Landscape architect (garden design) The Landscape Studio
Landscape architect (landscape and visual impact assessment) Lesley Cotton
Planning consultant Roche Planning
Structural engineer engineersHRW
Quantity surveyor Baqus
Principal designer (CDM 2015) Ian O’Brien Studio
CGI artist The Loop Visuals
Ecologist Cotswold Wildlife Surveys
Arboriculture Ruskins Tree Consultancy
Form of contract JCT Management Building Contract 2016
Management contractor Cotsbourne Construction
Funding Private
Tender date Management contract let. Works package tenders from June 2020
Start on site July 2020
Completion October 2021
Contract duration 14 months
Annual CO2 emissions Current model: 4.82t/yr; target: 4.5t/yr
Construction estimate £2.1 million including landscaping and demolition of existing house
Gross internal area 499m²

Site plan

Site plan

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Readers' comments (2)

  • With all due respect the first image suggests that the architect was indeed fortunate to obtain planning approval.

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  • Industry Professional

    I find it very unsettling - the contrast between modern and vernacular, the contrast between verticality and horizontality. It seems to be fighting itself rather than being harmonious. And what an apology for a main entrance!

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