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RetroFirst stories: ArkleBoyce on reworking an awkward Harrogate house

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The latest in a new AJ series looking at architects who have saved buildings from the bulldozers or given them a brand new life

RetroFirst Logos 2019 3

RetroFirst Logos 2019 3

With up to 40 per cent of carbon emissions coming from the construction industry, the profession needs to find ways of adapting the type of buildings it designs, and fast.

In order to tackle the climate crisis, the default – and less carbon-hungry – option for any project should be to adapt and reuse an existing building, one of the key demands of the AJ’s RetroFirst campaign.

With the spotlight on retrofit, our ongoing series seeks to celebrate the projects that save buildings from ruin or resurrect them in innovative new ways and to hear from the architects that designed them.

Today we hear from Graham Boyce of ArkleBoyce about how the practice got Harrogate planners to buy into its proposals for a mainly timber extension and revamp of an ‘awkward’ Victorian coach house.

Coach house axo overlay

Coach house axo overlay

Axonometric overlay

Tell us about the project
The building has been owned by our clients for a number of years, mainly as a rental property. Having a deep fondness for Harrogate they were keen to stay in the area but wanted live in something which reflected them and their endearment for the character and charm of the area.

They are hoping to use it as a retirement home, splitting their time between the UK and abroad. Our brief was to turn the building into a more usable home. Our clients run a very successful fit-out contracting firm with a background in carpentry, therefore, we wanted to exploit a fondness for exposed joinery where possible.

The site at Langcliffe Avenue sits close to one of Harrogate’s main roads, (Leeds Road) which ran through the Royal Forest of Knaresborough before the town developed. The surrounding streets, such as Langcliffe Avenue itself, developing mostly over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Analysis of historical maps show that The Old Coach, in it’s original or early form, was an ancillary building forming part of a single residential plot at No. 15 Langcliffe Avenue. This is supported by the portion of a 1910 map, which includes both buildings within a single plot.

The substantial house at No. 15 Langcliffe Avenue has been converted into flats, turning its back on the Coach House, which sits on a triangular parcel of land surrounded by trees.

As a practice we felt a careful approach was necessary for this project, ensuring that the proposals were seen as a positive contribution; helping improve the surrounding area and offering a new chapter in the life of the Coach House. 

What were the challenges of the existing building?
The Coach House is a non-uniform shape, in plan and section. It has been insensitively altered over time, with pastiche additions, giving the impression of a very unresolved massing and a house which didn’t really know what it was.

The building is deceptively spacious on the inside but was carved up into a series of awkwardly shaped rooms and spaces. Nevertheless, this presented opportunities to improve the ‘whole’ by exploiting this volume and creating a more open-plan arrangement.

Immediately to the south of the site is the impressive Grade II-listed St Mark’s Church, designed by J Oldrid Scott, completed in 1920 and reordered in the late 20th century. This is also the only building noted as being a landmark building within this character area.

Any design needed to ensure no adverse impact on the handsome and not insignificant trees being disturbed by any proposals.

Had demolition ever been considered?
The property is a non-designated heritage asset. We initially explored the notion of a new build dwelling, however, after much consideration, we felt that substantial changes to the Coach House might harm the character and setting of the conservation area.

The prospect of ‘righting some wrongs’ presented us [as architects] with an interesting design opportunity. We concluded the best direction for the project would be to retain the building and to enjoy working within the constraints presented, of which, this scheme had plenty.


Existing building

Existing building

How did you convince the client not to flatten the building?
Given our close relationship with the client, we offered to come up with a ‘retention scheme’ and see what could be done if we stripped the building of all non-essential elements, replacing pastiche design with more contemporary additions.

Harrogate can be tricky from a design perspective, when not proposing ‘more of the same’ design language, it can appear that locals and planners are resistant to anything but ‘Victoriana’ architectural language.

Locals and planners are resistant to anything but ‘Victoriana’ 

Our clients are receptive to contemporary design and allowed us free reign, especially if we thought it would find support with the local planners.

This project will shape the way the clients spend their retirement. It is important to reflect on the magnitude of our role from time to time.

Aside from retaining the original fabric, what other aspects of your design reduce the whole-life carbon impact of the building?
The existing building has solid walls and a very standard plumbing and heating system, albeit, the roof itself has been replaced in the past. Retaining the building offers a huge carbon-saving in comparison to a new build, and as architects, we recognise the benefit of that.

Retaining the building offers a huge carbon-saving in comparison to a new build

A new heating system will run via an air source heat pump, combined with underfloor heating. No natural gas connection will be used, thus creating a carbon-free home. Effectively we will be removing the internal walls and floors to exploit the full volume of the property, lining the buildings walls to improve its thermal performance and air tightness. This can be done across the whole envelope rather than on a ‘room-by-room’ basis, allowing a more efficient external shell, reducing space heating requirements further.

We favour a simple approach to sustainability, setting fewer, yet more meaningful, targets. This project demonstrates how low-tech, easy-to-use techniques can cut down on carbon requirements. Maximising natural light into the building through large openings and rooflights, combined with the double-height void, allows daylight to penetrate deep into the building, reducing the need for artificial lighting. 

Use of timber for the extension and interiors will be extensive, allowing its wood-working owner to use sustainably sourced, local materials, creating a well-crafted home.

The house is in walking distance of the town centre, meaning unnecessary car trips will be avoided. Electric vehicle charging will be provided, due to the convenience of the off-street parking, which can be rare with Victorian properties.

Were the planners supportive of the proposals?
Having already engaged through a pre-application submission we could rely on the planners being clear on the building’s status as a ‘non-designated heritage asset’. While this elevated the status of the building, they were aware of its obvious visual flaws.

We were able to offer various ‘sweeteners’ to our proposals, such as tinting the upper courses of brickwork (a later addition) and the removal of the incongruous porch and dormers.

To the local authority’s credit, the case officer ‘got’ the scheme immediately and was supportive of our approach. The scheme was approved via delegated powers.

What have been the main lessons from the project that you could apply on other developments?
We were really pleased how the new, albeit small, extensions have had a large impact on the design. Retaining even the most challenging buildings should be considered. The small extension is crucial in the success of the overall scheme, freeing up space in the main house.

Small interventions can have a large impact

We’ve been able to provide an exciting volume internally, with a vista to the outside world which can be appreciated from most parts of the house, even when waking up first thing in morning.

The design shows that small interventions can have a large impact, elevating the value of design. As a practice we always work hard on visual material to explore the design process and this has been the case here, too, allowing the client the conviction to go with our ideas.

Prop 3

Proposed interiors

Proposed interiors


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