by Shraddha NairSep 09, 2021
Adaptive reuse as a typology has been an ongoing trend and seems to be a reasonable response to lowering the carbon footprint of the construction sector. While the repurposing of buildings is not an entirely new idea, how they are reformulated has transformed. It is important to note the difference between renovating, refurbishing and adaptive reuse. Renovation typically means restoring something to a good condition or to repair it. Refurbishment implies a degree to upgrading equipment or retrofitting certain aspects of the space. Adaptive reuse, however, indicates that the fundamental purpose of the structure has been changed. Instead of demolishing a structure, the idea is to redevelop the interiors and non-structural elements instead of the plot.
Designed by architect Thomas Randall-Page, located in rural Devon, UK, a 250 square meter agricultural barn is an interesting structure to study the possibilities of adaptive reuse. Using an archetypical barn, Thomas created a space for the works of his father, Peter Randall-Page’s art archive. As an artist, Peter's career has spanned 40 years, and he is known for his large-scale sculptures, drawings and prints. Considering some of his larger sculptures and commissions, the volume of an agricultural barn seems appropriate. The duo played with the idea of the ‘given’ or ‘found’ in different ways, with Thomas taking the archetype of the Dutch-style barn as a given but its form as something that could be transformed.
In his brief Peter specified his desire to maintain the external view of the structure, saying, “The constraints were that everything must be within the original volume of the existing building. I wanted the exterior appearance, when closed, to be very much within the architectural vocabulary of the numerous other large agricultural sheds in the area.” The exterior was designed to follow the straightforward and utilitarian approach farmers have always taken to building barns. Inside, however, the project’s programmatic mix of an archive, storage, and studio spaces allowed Thomas to play with the internal volumes to create three distinct environmental zones.
While the barn is located in a fixed location, the entire façade moves with the help of industrial scale shutters, which un-fold and slide to reveal large areas. This movement seemingly transforms the massing of the barn, without changing the structure. The large, low-pitched volume is covered in vertical cedar boards, like a skin. This skin gives way, at a horizontal datum, to a galvanised steel skirt, amplifying the natural gradient of the land and protecting the timber from rain splash.
The barn is located on a slope, so Thomas formalised this site condition and created two terraces with a retaining wall. This wall starts as a landscape element and enters the building from the west. Once inside, the wall turns back on itself to enclose the lower level and form part of the stair. The three split levels provide unusual perspectives of the work, altering perceptions of scale and revealing the subtlety with which they touch the ground. The archive section of the barn is highly insulated, and airtight with a sensor-controlled dehumidification system, abutting the north wall of the structure. The rest of the barn's volume, housing Peter's sculptures and studio, remains unheated.
Elements of the existing barn were retained, including the softwood primary frame, while roof covering and some of the original cladding was also repurposed as part of the structure’s facade. Then local, low carbon or carbon-negative materials are prioritised. Locally grown and sawn timber such as cedar, Douglas fir and oak were used as part of the structure and flooring. This was also part of Peter's brief. He stated, “A high priority was the whole life carbon efficiency of the building, and being off-grid presented its own challenges, particularly as part of the building needed to be suitable for the storage of a perishable archive.”
These were not the only locally sourced materials used. Dartmoor granite was sourced from spoil heaps at the now disused quarry near Blackingstone Rock. Jeremy Greaves, the Stonemason for the project, described the process of acquiring the stone saying, “Thomas, Peter and I travelled to several quarries to get an idea of the various types of stone and how we could incorporate it into the barn. On one of our trips to a local quarry, Blackenstone near Moretonhampstead, a quantity of old granite spoil had just been dug out and we knew that this traditional Blackenstone granite was going to be the stone we used. I wanted the wall to be sharp and stylish.
There were some amazing natural single pieces, large, great steel work shaped blocks of granite that I could incorporate into a traditional Dartmoor wall.”
The structure's materiality also features steel elements, fabricated from sheet and standard sections. These details include a space-frame stair, handmade windows and doors with integrated locks and handles, a minimal handrail, and a grillage floor, all unified by hot-dip galvanisation, a universal finish for agricultural equipment. One of the most unique façade movements of the structure is perhaps the folding balcony. The moveable element is hand-powered, and it disappears seamlessly into the cladding. This was achieved by using three counterweights, all of which are flushed within the structure's cladding.
Peter, in an official statement, spoke about the project saying, “Firstly, I was very fortunate to be working with an architect who, having grown up around my work and studio, understands my modus operandi intimately. Secondly, the contractors were, for the most part, my own studio team using a limited vocabulary of mainly locally-sourced materials. And thirdly, although I had a budget for the project, we had the luxury of no specific deadline for completion, so Tom could evolve the design as an ongoing process over several years.”
Name: Art Barn
Location: Devon, UK
Area: 250 square meters
Year of completion: 2020
Architect: Thomas Randall-Page
Structural engineer: Spencer House
Site foreman: PJ Dove (the floating workshop)
Bespoke steel work: Earp engineering
Flooring specialist: Devon Micro Cement
Stonework specialist: Jeremy Greaves stonework