Artform on creating a wedding venue from dilapidated barns


With up to 40 percent of carbon emissions coming from the construction industry, the profession must find ways to adapt the type of buildings it designs – and quickly. The default option for any project should be to consider the adaptation and reuse of existing buildings, one of the main requirements of the AJ’s RetroFirst campaign.

Our series seeks to celebrate those projects that save buildings from ruin or demolition.

Today we hear from Jason Eccles, co-founder and director of Art architects, on £ 2.5million plans to convert a crumbling farmhouse in Normanby, North Yorkshire into a rural wedding venue of character.

Tell us about the project
The mandate of this unique project was to restore, reuse and expand a series of existing farm buildings to create a modern rural wedding venue. The site of Bridge House Farm near Pickering in North Yorkshire is surrounded by farmland and has a 150-year history of agricultural use, with several of the buildings being Grade II listed. This includes a brick barn, a wheelhouse, a cart shed and a stable dating from the late 19th century.

Due to the rural context and the heritage of the site, our proposal was to restore and conserve as much as possible the existing built fabric and to extend or replace elements only when absolutely necessary. All spaces are oriented around an existing courtyard which becomes the focal point of the new venue, providing a central courtyard for guests to gather, socialize and celebrate.

The new interventions on the 6,930 m² site use a materiality anchored in the context of the site, combining wood, metal and red bricks which refer to the agricultural setting.

Work is expected to start on the site next year.

What were the challenges of the existing site?
The main challenge of the project was how to take a series of disconnected and disjointed buildings that had been developed over different periods of time, and work them into a cohesive and engaging scheme that incorporates all the different components of a wedding venue, including inclusive of on-site accommodation for guests.

The first step was to assess the condition of existing buildings and develop a strategy on how they could be adapted, reused or converted. Together with the client, we drew up the dossier for the new venue and organized the accommodation around the site by assigning different uses to different buildings depending on size, location and orientation.

To overcome the fact that not all parts of the project were physically connected, we arranged the main spaces around a central exterior courtyard which serves as the main focal point for the development. Previously the main courtyard of the original farmhouse, it provides the project with a flexible space that can be used at different times of the day, connecting the ceremony hall, reception hall and bridal suite and creating a welcoming space for them. guests.

Bridge House Farm – as it is today

Had demolition or partial demolition ever been considered?
Partial demolition was only considered at the very beginning of the project due to the condition of some buildings, some of which were on the verge of collapse or had partially collapsed previously.

However, the client was keen to undertake demolition work only when absolutely necessary, mainly because the existing buildings are what give the site its rich character and its rural heritage. Their aspiration was to build a wedding venue that would resemble a rural farmhouse and adapt the project around the site.

Some buildings were on the verge of collapse

This seemed exactly the right approach to us, and our proposals only remove a few areas of the existing fabric where it just wasn’t practical to reuse. Where some of the existing barns have partial walls or roofs due to the collapse, these had to be rebuilt identically.

The only significant deviation from this was in the listed brick barn, which was a roofless building shell. Here, we have proposed a contemporary intervention whereby a new half-timbered volume would be fitted out inside the remains of the barn and clad in reddish red steel. This would reflect the shape and scale of the original barn’s sloping roof, but contrast with the original listed masonry that would be kept in place around it.

In addition to keeping the original fabric, what other aspects of your design reduce the building’s carbon impact over the lifetime?
The main structural frames of the new inserts and extensions are offered in wood rather than concrete or steel, with wood cladding incorporated into the new sections of the external elevations. In discussion with the client and the M&E consultant, natural ventilation was adopted for guest accommodation, as opposed to air conditioning systems often used in many hotel wedding venues. The larger volumes of the Ceremonial Hall and Reception Hall use chimney ventilation with high-level vents in the roof.

The original openings in buildings that were previously sealed have been restored and glazed as much as possible to create well-lit spaces that reduce the need for artificial lighting.

Did the planners support the proposals?
A pre-application for the program was submitted and the planners and conservation officer provided support from the start. They were eager to see the buildings restored and reused and saved from yet another collapse.

They also praised the benefit such a place would bring to the wider community – the farm is on the outskirts of a local village with shops, a pub and vacation rentals. A key discussion took place with the conservation officer regarding the approach to listed buildings. They were very receptive to the proposal for a contemporary intervention inside the classified shell and this dialogue allowed us to further develop this part of the device. The full planning request was approved by the committee without objection.

Axonometric sketch

What are the main lessons of the project that you could apply to other developments?
Working with existing buildings and thinking about how they can be reused and converted can be just as rewarding and requires the same imagination as designing a new construction project. And in some ways even more.

A key lesson would be to analyze what is out there on a site to begin with and determine where it can be reused and creatively reinvented. This not only reduces a system’s embodied carbon, but can help retain a sense of the past, retaining layers of history alongside contemporary interventions.

Is your approach to modernization and the way you talk about it with customers changing, especially given the increased attention to the climate emergency?
Yes, without a doubt. This is now part of the initial conversation when discussing a project with a client. Many customers may be aware of operational carbon consumption, but embodied carbon is often something they are not aware of.

Retrofitting is now part of the initial conversation with a customer

It is therefore increasingly important to help inform and educate clients on this subject. The increased attention to the climate emergency means customers are increasingly receptive to it, but this can vary widely.

Bridge House Farm – as it is today

About Paul Cox

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