Corpus Christi Jesuit Community

For the third of our project blogs we go to Boscombe in Bournemouth.

We were invited to take part in an informal competition with two other practices, to make proposals as to how we would approach the development of a tertiary care centre for Jesuit priests. The Orders director of property, Father Paul, himself an ordained priest, provided one of the most inspiring briefs we have ever received. Instead of a dry and technical schedule of their requirements he wrote a two page lyrical description of how they would like the place to be, who would live there and their differing needs both physical and spiritual.

chapel

The site was in the grounds of the existing redundant Victorian presbytery adjacent to the grade 2 listed local Catholic Church, a Catholic faith primary school and an Undertakers housed in a grade 2 listed Victorian lodge! Of three competitors, one was rejected early and we and the other where interviewed at the Jesuit’s Mayfair headquarters by a daunting panel made up of the senior members of the Order in the UK. Immediately after we had presented our initial thoughts on how the site might be developed and how we would respond to their brief we were invited to a follow-on meeting with Father Paul. It transpired the other candidates had approached the local planners and been told there was no way the proposed development would be approved and so had not presented any ideas at all!

Our response was that we were confident we could obtain an approval for their proposals on the site. That even if the scale of the proposed care facility was unacceptable, the site still needed to be found a new use and that we could help with that while looking for other options for locating the new House. Our thoughts on how we would respond to the brief and develop a proposal would still be valid either way. This is what the client wanted to hear and we were commissioned to develop a scheme for the Presbytery site.

Church driveway

Father Paul was clear that the Order did not want to look backwards with their new developments and he was keen that we should create a place of architectural significance. Our initial proposals were bold and in retrospect a little too dominant, pompously described by English Heritage as having an ‘infelicitous juxtaposition’ to it’s neighbours. We received a refusal from the planning authority, partly in response to a vociferous letter campaign against the development lead by a local Baptist minister who’s correspondence was vehemently anti-Catholic.

So started a mini religious war, with Catholic parishioners starting their own letter campaign at the ‘suggestion’ of the parish priest! Following consultation with the head of planning we were commissioned to do a complete redesign, reducing the mass by burying key elements 3.5 m below the garden level, breaking up the massing and adding more distinct elements. An extensive landscape scheme covering the whole site including the school and church was also included. A new and exhaustive design statement as well as numerous visualisation, reports, consultation meetings and prayers followed culminating in a unanimous decision at committee and a full approval.

plans

But at what cost. There was no doubt that the new scheme was going to be significantly more expensive and difficult to build and take substantially longer. Would it justify the additional cost and effort? Serious consideration went into the decision to proceed with the project, detailed value engineering and scope reductions were costed and the cost of developing on a simpler site was also investigated by the client. The conclusion was to proceed with pretty much the original scheme. The contract was fraught with problems, sub contractor bankruptcies, supply chain problems, site quality control failures, all resulted in even further delays and compromise.

Sunken cloister

The end result, however justified the effort and the complete House once occupied proved to be a resounding success with the elderly priests. The original brief anticipated a certain level of occupancy based on the demographic of the Order. It was anticipated that there would be a natural churn of about 20% per annum. In the event no one died in the first three years and the Order had to fit out an annex in a nearby house to accommodate the overflow!

A place to come to terms with life and mortality, to make peace with their god through prayer and meditation in comfort and tranquillity.

Highmount

We were contacted by a client who had recently inherited a property from his eccentric aunt. The site was in a rural location overlooking Tiverton. It had originally been developed as a small holding in the 1930’s but had become seriously run down as the owners became older and less able to manage the property.

The client had already decided he would sell the property and had been given a guide price by the local estate agents that seemed low for the potential of the site. A rebuild of a similar size property would be a significant underdevelopment and so we suggested he should obtain full planning permission for a more substantial home as a way to prove its value. We agreed a modest base fee with a top up based on a percentage of the additional value we could add to the agents valuation.

The long rectangular site ran across the slope, the front half being the original small holding and the rear half being young but well stocked woodland. The new house was placed at the boundary of these two areas running down the slope in keeping with the local vernacular tradition for livestock barns. The simple volume and gables also copied this building type though the cladding materials in render and timber differed from the more traditional stone. The final scheme was for a house with a large 1.5 storey living room, dining room, farmhouse kitchen, four bedroom, three bathrooms with a linked self contained studio /granny annex/home office at the upper end of the block.

The scheme received full planning on it’s first application and sold for substantially more than the original valuation. It seems likely this was a bit low but the agents were certainly surprised by the additional value we were able to add. Both the client and we were delighted by the outcome!

Long House

Each week we write a short background piece on one of our completed projects. This week

Long House, Longstock, Hampshire

This was our own house. The project started with the sale of Highway Farm and the search for a site in the Test Valley to build a new house, the ultimate dream for many architects. When approaching local estate agents enquiring about sites all we got was a condescending stare and something like ‘ rare as hens teeth’ . Luck favours the prepared and after living in a rented cottage opposite the Peat Spade pub for a year the landlord suggested that we should buy half of his pub garden which had planning for two little cottages.

The deal was done over a pint or two and we set about designing and getting approval for a single admittedly rather radial house. Three planning applications and eighteen months later the approval was in the bag. Now to build it.

Stage 1 was to dig up most of the garden to lay 1 km of ground source heat collector 1.5 m below ground, a ground duct for a tempered air supply, a sewage treatment unit ( next to an SSSI) and a rainwater harvesting unit. Then the RC raft slabs for the house, pool and garage block.

While this was going on the primary structural enclosure was being made in Switzerland from cross laminated timber CLT a kind of plywood on steroids, 100 mm thick wall panels and 200 thick floor slabs. These arrived on two huge artics and with a road closure the panels were craned onto site and erected on the slabs in just two days. The whole house was wrapped in 150mm of wood fibre insulation and clad with sweet chestnut boarding on the upper walls and roof (!) and lime render on the ground floor. Sweet chestnut window frame/linings and sliding doors were fitted with structural mastic fixed flush double glazing.

Inside stone floors on the ground floor were heated with underfloor heating and as were the upper chestnut boarded upper floors. A simple plasterboard lining and the addition of a very clever torsion timber staircase courtesy of Momentum Engineers completed the interior. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms upstairs, an open plan living/kitchen space downstairs with a separate studio and a utility space housing the heat pump and other gismos completed the downstairs accommodation.

In parallel with the build the Purbeck stone filled gabion garden wall separating us from the pub was built and the lawn, terraces and driveways were laid so when we moved in the site did not resemble the aftermath of the Somme. So rather over programme and budget we had finished our dream house. There is an unwritten law that when an architect finishes their house they must move. We resisted this for a while but eventually sold up and moved on to another even more challenging project.; building a new Thames barge, more on this later.

Would we have done anything differently. Yes. Use a general contractor rather than self project managing. They do know what they are doing and will save you their mark up in time and subcontractor margins. Don’t try so hard. We tried to include every green technology we could manage, some still in their infancy. It cost money and not many gave a return on the investment. We have a good feeling that we have done our bit for the environment but at a disproportionate cost.