July 23, 2024

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A Historic Dutch Barn Becomes a Home in Britain’s Largest Prairie Garden

A Historic Dutch Barn Becomes a Home in Britain’s Largest Prairie Garden

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Project Description:

Location: West Sussex, United Kingdom

Architect: Sandy Rendel Architects / @sandyrendelarch

Footprint: 2,355 square feet

General Contractor: Harfrey Construction Ltd.

Structural Engineer: Structure Workshop / @structure.workshop

Photographers: Jim Stephenson / @clickclickjim and Richard Chivers / @richchiversphoto

From the Architect: Our clients founded Sussex Prairie Gardens, an eight-acre public garden, in 2008. In 2017 they approached us with a brief to convert a historic Dutch barn that sat within the garden into a new home for themselves. We converted what was a basic open-sided corrugated roofed structure into a home where they could work in the garden.

“Looking closely at the photography of Bernd and Hilla Becher to better understand the qualities and language of the buildings in the area, we developed a loose asymmetric composition for the exterior. The construction had to be economic and enable the original structure to achieve the performance requirements of the new use. Within a repaired steel structure a timber structure was built. It is clad in a cloak of matte black corrugated zinc maintaining the character of the original barn but to achieve a more visually & technically refined envelope.

“Details were carefully designed to give clean, sharp junctions reminiscent of the minimal and pure language of the original barn avoiding the need for cover flashings and fascias. Internally, the upside-down layout with an open plan first floor offers elevated views over the garden and to the South Downs beyond. This allows the primary living spaces to enjoy the full expanse of the vaulted roof form and exposed trusses. With the original trusses inadequate to support the new roof loads, we developed a new design echoing the character of the original, and finished them in red oxide paint to reinforce their utilitarian roots. 

“Bespoke furniture pieces serve to sub-divide the living space, and chalk black quarry tiling, wall linings and metalwork continue a material language. Part way through the project the brief was expanded to include a viewing tower adjacent to the barn. This has both a public and private function, offering visitors an elevated view of the garden and, out of hours, an extension to the barn living space as a secluded private terrace. The cylindrical steel tower is reminiscent of a grain silo, and employs similar vernacular language, with its curved rolled steel structure expressed internally, and its panels and exposed fixings providing articulation to the simple form.

“The project highlights the opportunity for disused agricultural structures to provide economic, joyful homes, and to maintain and celebrate a distinctive vernacular.”