Church Hill Barn
The site, situated on the Essex/Suffolk borders within the landscape immortalised by Constable was originally the home farm of the nearby Assington Hall Estate, destroyed by fire in the 1950s. It consists of a collection of farm buildings forming a courtyard. The centrepiece of the site with views over the rural landscape is a large barn of cathedral-like proportions.
Cruciform in plan with a collection of smaller spaces surrounding it, the arrangement sought to provide shelter for different farming activities under a single roof. The barn complex is the legacy of one of its pioneering exponents of the model farm movement John Gurdon Esquire, the original owner.
The clients purchased the buildings in dilapidated condition. Having sold their own property in nearby Colchester they decided to reside in a caravan on the site during the build.
A large component of the renovations consisted of the refurbishment of the roof. In order to allow the existing structure to be viewed internally but still conform to modern standards of thermal performance, the roof is a ‘warm roof construction’ meaning that all of the insulation is located on the exterior of the roof above a new timber deck.
Roofing slates and timber materials were salvaged from the other agricultural structures on the site that were too decayed to be usefully renovated.
The external walls were insulated with sheep’s wool and clad with larch timber, which has been left to weather naturally. The original openings have been simply fenestrated with glazing set back from the external wall line. Oversized bespoke glazed sliding doors fill the hipped gable porches, allowing views from the courtyard towards open fields. Two three-metre square roof lights allow day light deep into the interior of the eight-metre tall central spaces.
Polished concrete flooring flows throughout. It was decided early on during the design process to keep the spaces as open plan as possible. Where necessary partitions and screens are designed as over scaled furniture. Freestanding and constructed from birch faced plywood sheets, they help to organise the spaces, providing privacy for bathrooms and sleeping areas.
A biomass boiler feeds underfloor heating assisted by a mechanical ventilation and heat recovery system.
The project won a Sunday Times British Homes Award for Renovation of the Year. It was shortlisted for the Daily Telegraph Homebuilding & Renovating Awards and the Architect’s Journal Retrofit Awards.
Darren Bray, HB&R judge “To tackle an existing building like this, you have to take a forensic approach to create a pice of architecture within the existing structure. This is a prime example of someone knowing when to stop adding layers”
Photography by Steve Lancefield