The latest in a new AJ series looking at architects who have saved buildings from the bulldozers or brought them back from the brink of ruin
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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 newly-launched series seeks to celebrate the projects that save buildings from ruin or demolition and to hear from the architects that designed them.
Here Artform Architects’ director and co-founder Simon Jewell explains how a run-down barn in the Cheshire countryside will be reused and converted into a new home.
Tell us about the project
We’ve recently won planning approval for a barn conversion on a rural site in Lymm, located in the Cheshire Green Belt. The proposal will overhaul and extend the disused brick building to create a large family home together with a new garage. The scheme at Oak Villa Farm also includes an extension to the existing farmhouse, which has already been divided into five flats.
The overall budget is around £700,000 plus VAT. Work could start later this year and complete in late 2021.
What were the challenges of the existing buildings?
The site contains a large, dilapidated and disused two-storey brick barn dating from the early 20th century sat next to the farmhouse building. The challenge was to create a bespoke dwelling within the barn, while also extending the farmhouse and adding an extra two-storey apartment. This raised issues around the amount of development appropriate considered for a green belt site and also the question of parking, access and privacy for each building.
The challenge of the barn itself revolved around how best to divide up the space to retain the essential character of the existing farm building while creating a contemporary design for modern family living. The main approach was, as much as possible, to restore and refurbish the original features while also adding a contemporary yet sensitive single-storey extension for additional space. Internally the layout features double-height spaces which expose the original oak beams and brick walls. Existing barn openings, façade details and windows are retained and expressed as features.
Had demolition ever been considered?
The client discussed demolition at an early stage but always felt that conversion of the building would be more appropriate and more cost-effective – which we were in full agreement with. Despite this requiring a significant amount of renovation work, the essence of the existing barn was something worth holding onto; we therefore felt that full demolition be a shame and restoration would ultimately be more rewarding.
The essence of the existing barn was something worth holding onto
Not only would a new build dwelling be problematic in the Green Belt but it would remove the essential character of the site and the associated history of the farmstead. The client saw the value in restoring an old building and converting this into a ’desirable bespoke new home’ for market sale.
Apart from retaining the original fabric, what other aspects of your design reduce the whole-life carbon impact of the building?
The aim will be to specify locally-sourced materials for the build and assess a variety of sustainable means of providing heating – either through solar, air source heat pump or ground source heat pump. The design maximises natural light to the main living spaces to avoid a reliance on artificial lighting. The new home will also benefit from electric car charging points.
Were the planners supportive of the proposals?
Planners have supported the scheme from the original pre-application discussions. Their main concern was related to the access point off the main road and the impact on the openness of the green belt. Consequently we took on board their comments and moved the detached garage to be closer to the barn (to reduce visual impact) and changed the location of the site entrance. There were no significant design amendments from our original concept ideas.
What have been the main lessons from the project that you could apply on other developments?
Working with characterful, original buildings that include modern extensions or have new builds alongside, can often lead to the most creative and fulfilling projects – although this is something we have always believed.
The scheme works with the original structure rather than fighting against it
Designing a scheme that works with the original structure rather than fighting against it was key to developing a layout that met the client brief yet retained the key original features. Having a client here who saw the value of conversion and retrofit from the very start certainly helped the process and allowed us to focus on retention from the very start.