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Respect for the building you are converting

Home Forums Design & Architecture Respect for the building you are converting

This topic contains 6 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  randycollins 4 years, 10 months ago.

Viewing 7 posts - 1 through 7 (of 7 total)
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  • June 6, 2011 at 10:39 am #4108


    William Morris would turn in his grave if he saw the example of a barn conversion you show on your website cover page.

    When converting a barn to habitable use there are some subtle things you can do to respect the barn you are converting, which I’m afraid the example shown does not get anywhere near.

    Haywain entrances: The haywain entrance should always retain its doors for starters, and the glazing to the haywain entrance should really be minimal or recessed – not expressed as a vast window. Haywain entrances were either shut or they were open spaces, and the new architecture needs to be sensitive to this.

    Roof Structure: The roof structure of the example barn is stiff and formal looking – as though it has been ‘straightened out’. The roof structures should be retained in-sutu and not rebuilt with straight lines. Barn roofs often display subtle fluid-like flow patterns on their roofs as the result of gentle settlement of walls or structural members. Only an insensitive designer could fail to notice and value these signs of age and grace.

    Meters: Abominations like the electricity meter cabinet in the foreground of the picture should never be allowed to be seen.

    Solar panels and rooflights cluttering the roof: The proliferation of solar panels and rooflights on the roof of the example barn is most insensitive, along with the inappropriate and not even technically needed roof vents (use vapour permiable roofing felt instead). The roof should be kept as clear as possible and the only rooflighting should be one or two small assymetrically-placed modern cast-iron like rooflights of the type that farmers might have put in at some point in the past. The rooflights used are patently modern and inappropriate. Solar PV or thermal should not be allowed to mar the beauty of any barn roof – they can instead be sited in a fixed or tracking array off to the side where it may be visually disengaged from the barn itself.

    Windows: Windows need to be carefully considered and not proliferate like those in the example building. Animals were not deemed to need much light and barns did not generally have windows as such, or if they did they were usually quite small. They did frequently have open ‘wind-eyes’ which were arrowslit-like portals to allow air in to dry grain. New windows need to be confined to small dimensions and the casements pulled right back so that the frames dont show.

    Dressed stone: One of my pet hates is seeing dressed stone quoins added to barn corners and openings. Luckily the example barn does not have these! Barns were build by local men for local men and they never contained architectural vanities like dressed stone quoins, which are mostly installed by people who do not understand or have any sympathy for the essential informality of barns.

    I want to challenge the owners of this website to show a better example of barn conversion (literally), and to promote a more enlightened approach to those who would live in barns. They can do this by providing an online guide to website visitors that will describe a more sensitive and appreciative approach to their conversion than is evidenced by the appalling example illustrated on the website entry page. Barns are in my view the most beautiful and functionally honest buildings this country has ever produced. We need to spend more time promoting practical ways that we can preserve their special character.

    June 7, 2011 at 5:54 pm #5472


    “Thou shoulds” suggest someone who ‘should’ get a life. I have found the owner’s approach to mistakes and ‘oops’ sufficient admission while providing guidance (even paradoxically) to those of us who are looking to ‘get it right’ while I find the tone and measure of your comments unnecessarily sanctimonious and only worthy of a southern baptist hell-fire-and-brimstone minister. You do nothing to inspire ‘the right approach’ and likely turn many away from whatever association you might choose to claim association to. See a professional if you want to truly inspire rather than condemn.

    June 14, 2011 at 2:06 pm #5473

    Key Master

    Peter, I’m sure William Morris wouldn’t give a flying hoot about a humble barn on a farm in West Wales and you should allow him his well earned rest. Quite presumptuous to speak for the dead – perhaps you should throw in Matthew Rice’s name instead as I’m pretty sure he shares your head-in-the-clouds, elitist attitude toward barn conversion.

    What I ramble on about here is a barn CONVERSION – that is the CONVERSION of an unused building on a no longer viable farm from its original agricultural purpose, for which there was no longer a demand, to a dwelling. Not a RENOVATION, not CONSERVATION, but a CONVERSION. There were three choices for this building – let it fall down, knock it down or convert it.

    That I chose to convert the barn, in a mildly sympathetic manner, but with the demands of healthy, comfortable, modern living and a nod of the head towards sustainability informing the design was my decision as the risk taker and bill payer. I’m afraid I live in the real world, I must juggle form, function and cost.

    In your comments about the roof you’re incorrect and show an unfortunate level of arrogance which could have been avoided by asking rather than assuming. It is the original Welsh slate roof with all the original timbers still in place beneath. Some remedial work was done on it 15 or so years ago when it was reroofed and felted – hence the need for the roof vents. It’s straight because that’s how the original craftsmen built it (William Morris would have loved them) – sorry no “signs of age and grace” – they built it too well. Perhaps we should have added some bucolic wonky lines for you? Most of the walls are pretty level as well – sorry.

    Oh no and again on the subject of dressed stone … wrong again. This building is covered in the stuff

    On the subject of windows and doors, (here we go again) this is now a HOUSE, not a BARN and so I give a one word answer – light! (Well building reg’s also play a part in the escape window in the gable end, so there are a few more words but I’m sure you get my drift). Oh and there’s also the solar gain, but hey let’s not worry about such practicalities.

    On the subject of solar panels, I agree they are ugly, but when faced with a decision between a sensible technical solution to water heating using the only suitable elevation and a uncluttered roof that is rarely seen, the pragmatist in me won. I guess you’re a lover of heat-pumps and a great imbiber of green-wash, not for me I’m afraid. Again, I must juggle form, function and cost, you seem to be overawed by form at every turn.

    In respect of your challenge, why on earth would I take you up on that? I’ll leave it to the ‘oh so clever’ likes of you to do the enlightening. I tell you what though how about a compromise?…

    You say … “We need to spend more time promoting practical ways that we can preserve their special character.”

    Go on then spend some of your time on my project…

    One of the problems with the internet is how easily we can track each other across it (you’ll find a wasteland of unfinished projects and half-built website in my wake – never been a completer finisher). So here’s a challenge for you and clever chums at Provide me with your guidance, show me the error of my ways and help me rectify my wrongs. I’ll photograph and measure whatever you need. Let’s see your design, let’s see some plans, let’s see some clever architectural jiggery-pokery (but nothing like that Swinbrook village bomb shelter please), let’s see if there’s any real substance to the bluster. We can share it all here…

    …Once I’ve seen the light I’m sure I’ll happily accept that challenge of yours (I’m always a sucker for a new project)…

    Believe me, I have the utmost respect for this building – but then I don’t get the impression you know much about respect.

    June 14, 2011 at 2:08 pm #5474

    Key Master

    Thanks Chuck – good to see someone ‘gets it’.

    June 27, 2011 at 6:56 pm #5475


    I don’t understand the point you make about the difference between conversion, renovation and conservation. There is no distinction to my mind between these because in all instances a building that was once a farm building is converted to habitable use. But ‘conversion’ and ‘renovation’ surely dont licence an insensitive treatment of a barn. The function changes, but converting to habitable use doesnt mean we can do anything to a converted building. It had a whole life before conversion and it was built for another purpose. So we need to respect its original character if we want to be sensitive to it and to its past, and for it to sit as peacefully at rest with its surroundings as it did before we came along. This is why there is so much discussion in Planning circles about whether to allow barn conversions at all. Conversion to habitable use is seen by Planners as undesirable these days because of the change in character to the building this involves. In my own area conversion of barns to habitable use is considered the least and last use that would be approved. The Planners have seen so many poorly converted barns where the character has been lost that it is Planning policy here now not to allow conversion to habitable use unless a very convincing case is made. Planners would much rather see a barn used as a workshop, office or community building or for it to remain unused (see below) because aspects of habitable use such as insertion of additional windows and rooflights and other habitable paraphernalia (which change the character of the building) are less likely with these other uses.

    I’m sorry to be blunt, but it is conversions like the one illustrated that helped change Planning policy on barns. I’m not alone in saying things like this. Pick up the phone and speak to your local Planning Conservation Officer: I’m sure you’ll find an echo of what I have said above. Following is a reprint of an article in the Telegraph:

    Richard Alleyne 16 Nov 2005

    ‘Bad barn conversions are a “cancer” on the countryside, English Heritage said yesterday as it launched its annual report on the state of the historic environment.

    The government body said that traditional farm buildings, fundamental to the character of the English countryside, were fast disappearing or being damaged beyond repair. They are, it said, the most endangered of all historic buildings.

    But the organisation also said it would rather see them remain disused and derelict than have them inappropriately renovated, which would amount to a “visual rape of the countryside that cannot be undone”. Yesterday Simon Thurley, its chief executive, issued guidelines to the public on what was considered to be good and bad practice in the renovation of old farm buildings as he launched the latest edition of Heritage Counts, the annual audit of the England’s historic environment. He conceded that there was a conflict between calling for the old buildings to be saved and for introducing ever tougher guidelines to their conversion.’

    On the subject of your challenge to me on the ‘How to’ guide there is no point in me doing another guide to barn conversions as there are a number of good ones out there already. For example Google ‘English Heritage guide to barn conversion ‘. There are also barn conversion Design Guides produced individually by Local Authorities. Google these too and you will fine them.

    There was a gentleman called David Pickles – a Planner, who wrote another very good one, though I cant find it on one sweep with Google. Why don’t you offer links to these on your website perhaps?

    I didn’t quite understand your additional challenge to me of helping you with your own conversion. Yours looks pretty well finished to me on the basis of the photo. Do you propose to unfinish it? I wouldn’t mind doing a barn conversion for you but it would need to be a fresh start. And you would hate it anyway, because my barn conversion would be virtually indistinguishable from the original building.

    Finally, I am sorry if my thread sounded ‘thou shalt’ to your other poster. I would never suggest that I’m an authority on barn conversions. However I have heard a lot on the subject from Planning and Conservation officers and you may well find that the approach expressed in my previous ‘thread’ would be supported by the majority of these.

    Thanks for the opportunity of a rebuttal.

    July 20, 2011 at 11:13 am #5476

    Key Master

    ‘because my barn conversion would be virtually indistinguishable from the original building’

    Dark and impractical to live in – great design Peter…

    Your experience of planning officers is very different from mine – most of the cosmetic appearance of the barn is due to planning and planners.

    Have you actually looked at the ‘English Heritage guide to barn conversion’? I have and there’s very little there that differs from what I’ve done… I just choose to show things warts and all on this site. There are large expanses of glass, amended windows, gas bottles, satellite dishes… in fact most of the things you’ve criticised my barn for can be seen in some shape or form on the ‘this-is-how-you-should-do-it’ pictures (although they’ve all hidden the evil meter boxes as far as I can see).

    “The rural, often remote location of many farm buildings may offer the opportunity to incorporate renewable forms of energy supply. Solar panels, photovoltaic cells and wind turbines may be possible if carefully sited. Internal east/south-facing roof slopes may be particularly suitable (check with the local planning authority as to whether consent is required).”

    – Oh and look, even English Heritage approve of my solar panels…

    April 13, 2014 at 4:37 am #5768


    There many I think that could relate on this,, this is something that I should be using.

    “works at

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