remodelling a converted barn

When we started the Scarratt and Martyn blog, one of our principal intentions was to provide some running updates on our projects in progress – work that is under construction or on the drawing board, but has not yet appeared on our website. So here we are – the first in an occasional series.

Lower Trendwell was acquired by our clients in 2009, when they relocated from a smart townhouse in London to pursue their dream of retirement in South Devon. This is a property where the coastal location and beautiful gardens were a major selling-point, and the presence of a self-contained annex afforded ready-made holiday accommodation for visiting family and friends.

existing north elevation

Unfortunately, the original barn conversion was second-rate – featuring many of the evils (nasty joinery finished with chocolate brown stain, terrible stonework, plastic rainwater goods, extensive artexing internally, etc) that have given these buildings a bad name. Our brief was to execute a limited facelift to deal with the worst of these issues.

the original Link building viewed from the south

Our initial appraisal of the site identified the ‘Link’ building connecting the main barn with the annex as one of the principal weaknesses of the design. Due to its prominence in relation to the main approach to Lower Trendwell, the Link had become the default entrance to the barn. Unfortunately, the fenestration and render wall finish were completely inappropriate, and had suffered with unsightly weathering over the last ten years. To make matters worse, upon entering the Link visitors would find themselves deposited in the utility room of the barn – hardly the sort of impressive entrance for which our clients were looking.

the new Link building

inside the new porch

We proposed demolishing the Link entirely and providing a new, enlarged building to connect the barn with the annex. The new Link would incorporate a properly design entrance hallway, ‘signposted’ externally with a new, glazed porch.

The remainder of the new space would accommodate a new kitchen/dining room to serve the annex. Crucially, we felt there needed to be an improvement in the relationship between the annex living accommodation and the attractive gardens to the north.

By introducing a change in floor levels, the annex kitchen/diner would be brought closer to the existing garden terrace. A fully glazed, green oak frame on the new north elevation would provide an immediate visual connection between interior and landscape. When viewed from the garden the glazing serves to provide a clear visual separation between the stone buildings of the existing barn and annex.

new kitchen diner to annex

Service spaces proposed for the south side of the new Link included a new utility room and bathroom to serve the annex. Windows were avoided here, to give emphasis to the glazed entrance and avoid any issues associated with loss of privacy – daylighting being provided by conservation rooflights. The south walls are clad with sawn larch boarding – a material that will weather and age naturally, with a colour that complements the existing stone.

The south-facing courtyard garden would be revamped to accentuate the new entrance and provide a pleasant sun trap garden.

new glazed oak screen to gable

the original gable screen

Elsewhere, a glazed green oak screen was proposed for the south-west gable of the main barn as a bold replacement for a compromised glass and timber infill on this most publicly prominent element of the barn. This allows the view from the first floor sitting room looking over the fields toward the coast at Thurlestone to be properly exploited.

Other enhancements included internal layout changes to existing bedrooms and bathrooms within the main barn, the introduction of patent-glazing over the existing mezzanine as a replacement for the existing Velux roofwindows, and the replacement of rainwater goods with new Lindab system with a galvanised steel finish.

Utilising a consistent palette of materials and details for the various interventions ensures that a cohesion is retained across the site.

Planning consent for the alterations was obtained in Autumn 2011 and work started on site in February 2012, with a projected completion date of October 2012. The green oak frame was designed, manufactured and installed by Carpenter Oak Ltd and the main contractor for the project is BroadOak Construction (Devon) Ltd of Plymouth.

inspired by the Maison á Pondalez in Morlaix

During our recent holiday in nothern Brittany we visited the small town of Morlaix and discovered the amazing Maison á Pondalez in the Grand Rue.

Built in the sixteenth century by a linen merchant and restored during the 1990s, it is a fine example of a building type site-specific to the Finistère region of France.

The house is constructed in three parts: front, middle, and rear. The front section opens out onto the street and would have formed the main trading area or shop with large windows and shutters that doubled as stalls during the day. The rear part would have formed storerooms or bedrooms. These two areas are connected via a stunning, beautifully- carved spiral staircase rising up three storeys to the roof and contained within a central atrium called the Manor Room.

Timber bridges or landings connect the various rooms to the staircase, hence the name pont d’allées or pondalez.

The staircase is constructed around a 10m high newel post made from one single piece of oak. It is carved along the whole of its length and the top is formed into a staue of St John, who was probably the patron saint of the house.

The front of the building is heavily corbelled with each floor jettied out one above the other.  The distance between the front of the house and the opposite building is 5.8m on the ground floor and a mere 3.3m on the top floor. Some attribute this jettying of floors to the high level of taxation levied on the ground floor plan area of a building!

This wonderful house is definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in Morlaix. You can then retire for a restorative cup of coffee in one of the nearby cafes and reflect upon the dangers of carrying a pile of ironing down the beautiful but steep spiral staircase – a long way to fall if you miss your footing!

an alternative AGA

All new houses built today must include some form of renewable heat source for their primary and hot water heating. Technology has come a long way over the past few years but the options are generally expensive to install. Options include ground source heat pumps, photovoltaic cells, and biomass boilers.

The government helps to reduce the costs of installation via the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). This scheme pays up to 8.5p/KWh for the hot water and heat generated from renewable sources for 20 years from the date of registration of the system. It is also index-linked for inflation. In order to qualify for the scheme you must ensure that you home is sufficiently insulated to avoid as much heat loss as possible. You can read about the RHI Scheme at here.

While undertaking the detail design phase of a new house recently, we came across the Klover Smart 120 wood pellet cooker. This is a modern take on the AGA, combining a boiler that provides hot water and central heating for the whole house, with a range-style oven and hobs. The stoves are manufactured in Italy, and the makers claim that the Smart 120 is more than 90% efficient and gives out up to 17.5kW of renewable, low CO2, heat to water. Smart pellet cookers are automated and programmable like a conventional boiler with the added bonus that they can be used for cooking and baking. We think they look good too!

Please note that at the time of writing the Klover pellet cooker is not yet MCS (Micro Generation Certifcation Scheme) registered. Anyone considering this as a heat option and wishing to benefit from the financial benefits available should check that the product meets the requirements of the RHI .

the hidden costs of a simple planning application

The government makes headlines by claiming to have simplified the planning process, but our clients are finding that the reality of the present planning framework is a raft of hidden costs and complexities to be addressed prior to submitting a planning application. This blog takes a brief look at the new hoops we all have to jump through when preparing proposals for new development, even in relation to quite modest residential projects.

Yesterday afternoon I spent some time with a couple of potential clients discussing the extension of their attractive listed house. This was a typical pre-project meeting where we talked about the functional requirements of the project – the ‘brief’ – and I was able to offer my views on the feasibility of the various options open to them.

Although I’ve been making similar site visits on a regular basis for more than twenty years now, I always enjoy these meetings – one never knows quite what to expect when arriving at a new property for the first time and suggesting ideas on the hoof is akin to designing without a safety-net. However, there is one aspect of these pre-project meetings that has changed enormously in the last few of years – the need to explain the amount of additional information required by local planning authorities (LPAs) before they will accept and register an application. These demands will vary from project to project, and in some instances it can be difficult to anticipate what the individual LPA will require. In the case of a typical domestic residential project (new house, barn conversion, remodelling or extension) some or all of the following may be needed:-

  • Flood Risk Assessment or FRA – if the site falls within the Environment Agency’s published Flood Risk Zone 2 or 3 (see www.environment-agency.gov.uk/subjects/flood/?lang=_e) an FRA will be required. We have had some success preparing FRAs for sites where the issues are not complex, but the FRA will usually need to be prepared by a suitably qualified engineer and will typically require a desktop study and site visit. The LPA may require details of proposals for mitigation of flood risk which can require specialist design.
  • Biological Diversity and Geological Conservation Survey - potentially applying to any development that could affect features of biodiversity or geological interest, this is particulalrly relevant in the rural and coastal areas within which we work. Typically the LPA will require a biodiversity survey by an ecologist, and this will usually be concerned with protected species such as bats and barn owls. We are finding that most LPAs are insisting upon a bat survey and report for virtually all forms of development, a recent example being an application for a fenced sand school for horses situated on agricultural land. Costs begin at around £350 plus VAT, but will increase significantly if an emergence survey (night-time bat count) is deemed necessary.
  • Contamination Report – the development of land where there is a known or suspected presence of substances that could be harmful to people, property or the environment will require the submission of a site contamination report. This report may initially be based upon a desktop study, but site sampling and soil investigation may be necessary. This will be a worthwhile expense when the risk dictates (eg. old industrial land, landfill sites, etc), but we are typically being asked for this information in relation to the conversion of rural barns.
  • Mining Activity Search – a common requirement in the former industrial areas of the Tamar valley in West Devon and East Cornwall. Often available from conveyancing solicitors or from online resources at modest expense.
  • Trees and Hedges Report - if there are trees or hedgerows on or adjacent to the site that could be affected by the development, a tree survey and report prepared by a qualified arboriculturist to BS5837 may be required. There may be issues here that overlap with a biodiversity and protected species survey (eg. nesting birds).
  • Structural Survey - we are increasingly being asked to provide a structural survey report for any works relating to the conversion of redundant buildings. The purpose of the survey is to confirm that the building in question is capable of conversion. This survey would need to be prepared by a structural engineer.
  • Other Possible Items - there are a number of other items that we are occasionally required to supply. For example, works to historic or listed buildings may require a heritage statement or even an archaelogical survey; disposal of stormwater may require the design of a sustainable urban drainage system by an engineer and could need site investigation works; details of any significant engineering work such as retaining walls, embankments or alterations to the highway may require specialist design details to be submitted; listed building applications may require fully detailed design drawings for items such as new windows and doors.

Central government claims that they are radically simplifying the planning process, and it’s certainly true that smaller works are now less likely to require planning permission than in the past. However, for the next echelon of slightly larger projects, the layers of bureaucracy added by LPAs are massively increasing the cost and complexity of preparing a simple planning application. Depending upon location, it is now quite conceivable that proposals to add a modest extension to a house will require a bat report, flood risk assessment and tree survey – that’s three additional consultants and a potential additional cost of £1,500 to £2,000 upfront before the LPA will even consider an application.

We have long harboured the view that many planning authorities use these hurdles as a convenient means of delaying the moment when the statutory eight week determination period for an application commences; a useful way to protect their key performance indicators.

With the inevitable risk of refusal present in any application for new development, we find it perfectly understandable that our clients do not wish to spend large sums of money in advance on consultants’ fees. Unless there is a compelling argument to the contrary, we usually suggest that an application is submitted with the absolute minimum level of supporting reports and information. This places the onus upon the LPA to check the application and request the additional information specifically required in relation to the particular site and project. As a result the initial application is usually declared ‘invalid’ until the supporting paperwork is supplied, and a short delay may be incurred while the necessary surveys and reports are prepared.

In an ideal world we would still be able to readily obtain intelligent guidance from the LPA at the pre-application stage, but the trend toward planning surgeries and duty officer advice means that the quality of pre-app input available is inevitably generic and of little use in relation to these matters.

a university lesson in timeless design

This is the time of year when universities are putting on their best show to attract potential fee-paying punters…or under-graduates as they used to be known. As parents of an eighteeen year old daughter we have been clocking-up the miles visiting various open-days at academic institutions around the country, and last weekend we made the last and longest journey of them all to the University of East Anglia.

The prospect of a round-trip from Devon of over 700 miles was undeniably daunting, but UEA holds a particular interest for architects of our generation. The whole university campus was constructed from scratch to a masterplan conceived by Denys Lasdun in the 1960s. For the last 25 years the highly respected Rick Mather Architects have been working on a strategic plan to extend, adapt and enhance the core campus, and of course, UEA is home to the Sainsbury Centre – Norman Foster‘s purpose-built home for the Sainsbury art collection.Campus Overview

The sixties brutalism of Lasdun’s ‘learning wall’ is undeniably something of an acquired taste – as fans of Le Corbusier‘s béton brut we lap-up this stuff – but if you are no lover of the National Theatre, these buildings won’t be for you…there was a definite apologetic note in the description of the architecture in our guided tour! However, there is immense clarity and remarkable compactness in the layout of the facilities, with student accommodation, library and union buildings set in the landscape, divided from the academic ‘wall’ by a sinuous raised walkway that separates pedestrian traffic from the vehicles beneath. We quickly found that we had no trouble finding our way around the complex, and began to understand why this is such a highly-rated university enviornment amongst the students.

The Mather plans have extended the linear form of the original buildings, although the raised walkways have been jettisoned for conventional ground level access – diminishing the theatricality of the architecture in the interests of improved accessibility. We visited one of the new student housing blocks, where accommodation is arranged as ‘terraced houses’ with communal kitchen, sitting and dining spaces at ground level and bedrooms on the upper floors. A layout that gives a friendly domesticity for the eight residents, but moves away from the Oxbridge model utilised in the appealing communal hierarchies of the stacked glazed cells arranged around a central stair in Lasdun’s famous ziggurats. First impressions of Mather’s architecture were disappointing, with a blandness that may be a product of tight budgets and new academic conservatism. Although the statement educational buildings (eg. Climatic Research Unit) have a undoubted clarity of form and rigour in their execution, they already appear strangely dated.

The undoubted highlight was the Sainsbury Centre. A quick Google following our visit reminded us that this was Norman Foster’s first public building, designed back in the mid-seventies and opened in 1978. Subsequently extended twice by Foster, the building has a simplicity and clarity of intent that is truly timeless. This great hangar of a space is uninterrupted by internal structural support and has a breathtaking scale to its interior, and a spatial flow in tune with the Sainsbury’s desire to display their collection as they had in their own home – with visitors encouraged to wander from painting to artefact, freed from any predetermined sequence.

The monochrome building utilises steel and glass with an exquisite attention to detail that delights – beautfully balanced pivoting glass doors, stunning spiral stair – and has resisted any sign of age, staining or weathering. The Sainsbury Centre remains fresh and new, and provides an astonishing educational resource for the students at UEA housing iconic twentieth century art, the School of World Art Studies, the Sainsbury Lirbrary, post-grad study areas, and the university’s own collection of abstract and constructivist design.

Our prospective drama student was completely entranced by the course and facilities on offer, and particularly by the very special sense of place created by the campus. When the personal statement and UCAS application is being prepared later this year, UEA will be right at the top of Miranda’s list. And the preferred student accommodation? The slightly shabby communal apartments of the Lasdun ziggurats overlooking the lake have been declared favourite; guaranteeing a fast-track to a proper student social-life and the cheapest rent on campus to ease some of the pressure on the student loan.

hey, hi, howdy, hello!

Well I guess there has be a first time for everything, and here at Scarratt and Martyn we’re always keen to try new things, so…welcome to our new blog! We have a fairly hazy idea of how these things work, so please bear with us as we ascend the WordPress learning curve.

At the outset I believe it is customary to make some sort of statement of intent for these pages. We see this blog as an opportunity to share our thoughts on all manner of matters connected with the work we do as chartered architects in the south-west of England. We’ll be discussing current issues affecting development including changes in planning and building regulations, technical developments and new products that we’re excited about, and we’ll be looking at good design that inspires us and explaining why.

We also see this blog as an opportunity to illustrate some examples of the projects that are still on our virtual drawing boards and provide bulletins on progress with our work on site. This means that the blog will compliment our main website, but we expect these pages to be faster moving and more relaxed in tone.

Crucially, we want this blog to give us the chance to interact with the big wide world beyond our CAD workstations. We hope you’ll find items of interest here and will welcome your comments and input. We’re not sure what to expect and are really only certain of one thing – our preconceptions are bound to be proved wrong.

Welcome aboard…we hope you enjoy the ride!