Mæ Architects' sustainably rooted response to the community needs of Fulham
by Zohra KhanSep 07, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Dhwani ShanghviPublished on : Feb 16, 2023
Wraxall Yard is a dairy farm-turned holiday accommodation in Dorset, a county on the coast of the English Chanel in South West England, UK. Its inclusion in the West Dorset AONB (Area of Natural Beauty) within a 250-acre organic farm, ordains a design approach that is not only a conscious effort towards restoring the existing 19thcentury dairy barns but also alleviates the biodiversity of the landscape, with universal accessibility.
The British architect Clementine Blakemore of the eponymous London-based studio (Clementine Blakemore Architects), therefore, works off a three-pronged design intent of restoration, sustainability and inclusivity. Located at the edge of a hamlet of Lower Wraxall, the site is adjacent to the Grade 1* listed Church of St. Mary's, and derives its form and aesthetic from the vestigial dairy barns and the immediate context. The extant U-shaped barn is arranged around a courtyard and constitutes of brick and stone architecture, which in the new scheme is extended towards the south to accommodate an open farm yard, encompassed by a newly constructed Dutch steel barn.
The site is accessed from the driveway on the south, with the parking at the rear of the plot, enabling an uninterrupted dialogue between the historic church and the elevations that face it. From the parking lot, a breezeway through the barn leads to the primary spaces in the building, consisting of five rooms for guests, a community space and a workshop; enveloping a landscaped courtyard. The Dutch barn, which is the only newly built intervention, accommodates farm animals and wood chips, while its extension- an adjacent lean-to structure houses the Biomass boiler.
With an aim to retain the existing fabric, Blakemore reuses the openings of the barn, which not only leaves the historic proportions undisturbed but also economises the construction work, and by extension, minimises the carbon footprint of the project. The resultant facades are designed as a congruous composition of openable steel windows and fixed timber windows, made from locally available Douglas fir. Additionally, steel doors and large glazed fenestrations (replacing the original barn doors) bring natural light into the structure and simultaneously contribute to passive design systems that render the project sustainable.
Also contributing to the environmental performance of the building, is the use of natural, low-carbon materials like cork and wood fibre, in the interior design and applied on the walls and roof for natural insulation, respectively. Additionally, a coppice of nut trees along the pathway leading to the breezeway from the parking lot is cut back periodically to ground level thus stimulating the growth of the landscaped lot.
Since its inception as a not-for-profit Community Interest Company, Wraxall Yard has worked in partnership with Green Island Trust, a local charity that works towards providing holidays to locals with a disability, enabling a 60 per cent occupancy by families with a specially-abled member. Additionally, the community space is used for gatherings for the elderly as well as youth with mental health/addiction issues.
Explaining the design process undertaken to facilitate a disabled-friendly infrastructure, Blakemore illustrates, "At the start of our appointment, we carried out a Feasibility Study to better understand the possibilities within the site and help define the brief for the project. We visited a number of projects in the South West offering rural experiences to disabled people, including 'care farms' and residential accommodation. Typically, we came away feeling inspired by the activities on offer, but disappointed by the quality of the environments, which often felt institutional; this galvanised our ambition for the accessibility of the scheme to be integrated as elegantly as possible.”
The accommodation is thus arranged on a single level with easy circulation paths that host an ample turning radius for tenants with wheelchairs. Furthermore, a number of accessible features like sinks with accessible grab handles, and worktops that change levels to accommodate wheelchairs below are used in the toilets and kitchen. Each accessible room is equipped with height-adjustable and profiling beds, as well as hoisted access to an en-suite bathroom.
The restoration of Wraxall Yard is informed by the need to retain as much of the original fabric with minimal interventions. Thus, in places where the external stone and masonry walls could not be retained in their existing state, have been strengthened with concrete and repaired with locally sourced stone to ensure longevity.
The courtyard walls, which were not salvageable, are replaced timber-framed walls, clad with recycled stone, alluding to the agricultural architecture of the barn. The architect has also preserved construction details that lend a similar aesthetic to the accommodation. The elevations which were composed of brick piers with flat arches, door openings and clerestories, interspersed within the stone walls are retained in the new elevations as well.
The new Wraxall Yard is thus the product of a coherent design brief that revolved around the rehabilitation—built, social as well as environmental.
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