The postwar period saw many of Scotland’s rural areas scarred with nondescript bungalows and ill-proportioned kit houses, with neither typology built with much concern for their impact on the country’s rich diversity of landscapes, architectural traditions and local cultures. Yet, it may be that the fundamental construction of many of these buildings remains relatively sound and, in a world increasingly aware of the benefits to be had from the application of Circular Economy principles, the question arises of how much, rather than how little, of the existing fabric can be repurposed through the application of some creative design thinking.
In the case of A449 Architects’ design for Blakeburn Cottage (2015), near Melrose in the Scottish Borders, the starting point for renovation and extension was a characterless 1970s bungalow.
With demolition and construction of a new-build often a stumbling block with planners, the philosophy applied at Blakeburn Cottage has been to retain as much of the existing fabric as possible: a decision that allowed construction to move more quickly and that the process was cost-neutral relative to any VAT saving made through compete demolition.
Here, the house has all the appearance of being entirely new, but closer inspection reveals the palimpsest of the bungalow’s footprint, whilst the form of the gable ends has been driven by the profile of the host structure. Concrete chimney stacks also nod to the scale of the original building, with other alterations and additions subtly introduced: the old building underwent a full, internal strip-out to create more flexible space; the plan was lengthened at both ends; and ceilings removed and the roof opened up to provide double height space to every room.
The characteristics that give the impression that this house is new, however, are the taut-detailing of vertically-fixed larch rainscreen and the fine edge to the eaves of the slate-clad roof, features emphasised by the concealment of gutters and downpipes. Blakeburn appears as a minimal, modern home, its antecedent given unexpected new life, form and continuity.
RIAS Award Best Use of Timber 2016
The Modern Timber House in the UK, chapter 7: The remodelled timber house
Images: David Barbour