somerset

Bighams Production Campus - A Model for Rural Industry

Bighams Production Campus - A Model for Rural Industry

If we want rural and urban areas to remain distinct and not just become merged in ubiquitous suburbia we need to think more imaginatively about where development occurs and how it can be made specific to its place.

Between The Earth And The Sky

Between The Earth And The Sky

The Unknown Political Prisoner Monument defines space in the loosest sense, as an open structure of thin steel wires through which the landscape and sky are framed, delicately pinned to the ground. 

The Abbot’s Kitchen at Glastonbury Abbey

The Abbot’s Kitchen at Glastonbury Abbey

I finally got round to visiting Glastonbury Abbey this week, having lived near-by for 5 years and been deterred by the magic-crystal shops, and discovered this little gem of a building. The Abbot’s Kitchen is the only ...

Precedents II – Dundon Passivhaus

Precedents II – Dundon Passivhaus

Rather than thinking about what it would look like, a lot of our discussions revolved around the atmosphere of the house and the way different spaces would relate to one another. Emily is an interior designer, so we each had different, but fortunately ...

Barrington Court

Barrington Court

On Sunday we headed over to Barrington Court, the first large house taken on by the National Trust (in 1907), and one that caused them such serious financial difficulties that it was held up for years after as an example of why they should be vary wary of taking on other stately homes. For over ...

Residential Barn Conversions – Permitted Development Clause Q

Residential Barn Conversions – Permitted Development Clause Q

Over the last couple of months I’ve been challenging the most ill-conceived piece of planning legislation that I’ve come across since working as an architect. Permitted Development is a very sensible policy that enables certain development to be carried out without applying for planning permission. It has always been restricted to minor works that would not have a detrimental affect on the appearance of a building or the landscape. It allows people to ...

Blurry edges

Blurry edges

Driving back from dropping my son at nursery this morning I saw this rather splendid haystack next to the road. (It’s actually a strawstack but I’ve never heard one called that…) Remembering this storyfrom a few years ago about a farmer who built a house behind a haystack hoping to conceal it from the planners, I had to go and see what ...

Hauser & Wirth Somerset

Hauser & Wirth Somerset

Very excited this week about the opening of Hauser & Wirth Somerset in Bruton. Its not often a leading international art gallery decides to set up shop on my patch so I was keen to go along and have a look. My review will be in the August issue of the journal Architecture Today . Fundamentally it is a ...

Avonmouth Grain & Coal Silos

Avonmouth Grain & Coal Silos

From the M5 motorway bridge near Bristol you get a magnificent view over the docks at Avonmouth. In the low landscape of carparks and sheds I had spotted several concrete grain silos poking up but had never been able to stop and investigate. This weekend ...

Mells – Lutyens in Somerset

Mells – Lutyens in Somerset

This week Emily & I went for a rare night away at the Talbot Inn in Mells, a 15th Century coaching inn with great food and atmosphere. We had been keen to go there for some time but my enthusiasm was only partly motivated by the ...

Steel Dutch Barn

Steel Dutch Barn

I came upon this hay barn near Somerton this morning. I love the proportions and elegance of the structure. All the members are so slender and refined compared to some of the over-engineered structures put up today. It has 7 bays, all open on the long sides except for a ...

The Wild South-West

The Wild South-West

I’ve been getting rather agitated recently about a planning application submitted for a new house in our village. As new-comers we’ve kept our heads down, particularly as our neighbours have been so generous and welcoming to us and our unconventional house, but this proposal exemplifies a superficially benign type of development, the cumulative effect of which is a creeping erosion of the character of the countryside.

Why Passivhaus?

Why Passivhaus?

When we started work designing a new house for ourselves the issue of energy efficiency was high on the agenda. It was 2010 and UK energy prices were rising, and continue to rise much faster than inflation. From 2005 to 2010 UK retail electricity prices doubled and ...

Shatwell Farm Barn

Shatwell Farm Barn

I visited an intriguing building this week at Shatwell Farm near Castle Cary in Somerset. Its a cow shed but one with rather higher ambition than your typical farm building. Designed by Stephen Taylor Architects the barn is part of a cluster of agricultural buildings in a small valley at the edge of the Hadspen Estate. The owner has carried out a ...

Barn 1

Barn 1

At the bottom of the field in front of my house is this shabby Dutch barn. Most people’s reaction is ‘I bet you wish that barn wasn’t there’, but I actually rather like it.  It is prominent but doesn’t block the view. There aren’t many buildings I’d be happy to see there but this utilitarian shed represents something about why I moved to the country and how man and nature co-exist in the English landscape.

Homes for Heroes

 

Finding the right rural building plot isn’t easy.  You (quite rightly) aren’t allowed to build on open countryside outside a village curtilage as defined in the Local Development Framework.  Unless you are a major house builder the only options are to divide up a larger plot within a village, to convert an agricultural building or to buy a house and knock it down.  The plot we found had a ramshackle bungalow on it whose owner had recently died having lived in it for 40 years.   Its location is idyllic, just within sight of the next building at the edge of a village with a fantastic view to the south across the Somerset Levels.

Our intention was always to demolish the bungalow and start again – after all, building a new house was the deal that had lured me out of London.  But there was something about the simplicity of the little place, 4 rooms around a central hallway-cum-sitting room, and the fact that someone had lived here happily for so long with a minimum of modern comforts that made us rather sentimental about it.  It had no pretentions, just the quiet dignity of something built efficiently and economically to fulfill its purpose.

I don’t have any information on the original design – does anyone out there know more about it?  Perhaps it was never intended to last long.  There’s no reason a timber frame won’t last for centuries if kept dry but with only a small fireplace to dry out the damp and less than adequate maintenance ours was suffering seriously from rot.  A pipe had burst, soaking the inside and by the time we started work there were mushrooms growing on the floor.  There was no alternative but to start again.  We salvaged what materials we could but most of the timber was rotten and the walls were lined with asbestos boards.  All we have are the thin softwood floorboards which so far have only been used to make compost bins.

We had looked at a few sites that had similar bungalows on them, all being sold as building plots, and we’ve found several more not far away.  Ours was built around 1920.  It had a softwood timber frame with painted softwood cladding and an asbestos shingle roof.  After the 1st World War the shortage of labour and orthodox building materials led to the government offering subsidies to local authorities for houses built using non-traditional methods that could take advantage of the spare production capacity from the armaments factories.  Systems were developed using concrete, steel, cast iron and timber and around 50000 were built in the decade following the 1st World War.

And now people like us are pulling them down.  Maybe its inevitable but it is rather sad that a whole typology is slowly being removed from the landscape.  Part of their appeal is their small size and lack of permanence – ours certainly had something of the frontier about it.  A flimsy timber system-built house is the antithesis of the Englishman’s house as his castle.  We liked the way the well-kept garden had grown around it so that the fruit trees were of a similar scale to the bungalow, preventing it from dominating the site.

Here are a few photos of ours taken in the autumn sunlight the first day we went to see it in 2010.  If you want to stay in a similar house there is a 1920s Boulton & Paul bungalow in north Devon you can rent owned by the Landmark Trust.

 

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Metalwork

Metalwork

This morning I went to see the progress on some of the metalwork for our house. I love the fineness of metalwork, the crisp lines and economy of material, and the way it can bear the marks of how it was made. We’re using steel for a number of internal and external elements to provide a contrast with the chunkier oak structure and linings. Two metalworkers are making things for the house as there’s quite a lot of it and everyone seems to be busy despite the recession. These photos were taken atCastle Welding.

Long Sutton Passivhauses

Long Sutton Passivhauses

One of the biggest challenges for the wider adaptation of Passivhaus is for it to be adapted by the mass housing market rather than just private individuals for one-off houses. Two major obstacles are the perceived additional cost and the lack of skills in the construction industry. 

Welcome

 

Hello, and welcome to my blog. I am an architect living in Compton Dundon, a small village in Somerset. I moved here with my wife Emily, an interior designer in 2011 having lived in London for 15 years. We had our son Arlo two weeks after we arrived but he was only one of two major projects that have dominated the last two years. The other was building our own house on a beautiful south-facing slope just above the Somerset levels. We bought the site at auction in 2010 and had obtained planning permission by the time we moved. So my first 8 months in Somerset were spent doing the detailed design for the house, changing nappies, and trying to get some sleep myself occasionally. Work started on site in January 2012 and we moved in at the start of November the same year. The house has been built to Passivhaus standard which means it has extremely high levels of insulation and air-tightness. It wasn’t finished of course but at least we were in and we have been carrying on with the work in a slowly decreasing state of chaos around our day jobs.

In the blog I will be talking about architecture, low-energy construction, and urban design. Primarily though I want to explore aspects of rural architecture and planning. Being a new arrival in the country I am conscious of bringing with me the attitudes of an urbanite, one of them Londoners. I am keen to explore issues that determine how development occurs outside of urban areas, to develop an approach for how to design in the countryside and to understand better where I am.

Please get in touch or leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

 

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