Architect Micah Jones has used Cross Laminated Timber to transform a dilapidated agricultural building into a luxury interpretation of the farm buildings of his rural County Down childhood. A Grand Design using a material palette of wood, stone and concrete.
The County Down Barn which featured on Channel 4’s Grand Designs in September 2017, is a contemporary take on a traditional barn conversion formed of a one-storey CLT structure installed above the restored original stone building. The new home was built on a limited budget and timescale and is located on a tight site with stunning views across the Mourne Hills of County Down. By using a complementary material palette of CLT, stone and concrete Micah has provided an elegant, yet comfortable and robust home for his growing family.
PEFC certified CLT was specified for several reasons including its enhanced thermal and air tightness performance - a major benefit as all the insulation on the house is external. Other key considerations were CLT’s structural ability to achieve the clean, long spans that Micah was looking for its high quality finish which was important because internally the CLT has been left exposed throughout.
The Barn is laid out as an upside-down house with the main living space on the first floor and the bedrooms and bathroom at ground floor level. The house is long and narrow and Micah has designed the CLT upper floor to create a ‘tunnel of timber’ effect, formed of one long open span. This has been achieved by an ‘over-truss’ solution developed for the project by CLT specialist G-frame Structures where the trusses are placed on top of the roof and the roof is ‘hung’ from them making only the tie beams visible internally.
CLT off-cuts from the windows and doors have been used to form the staircase which links the ground floor sleeping areas to the living space above. A centrally located ‘hub’ on the first floor landing provides a family room with a mezzanine play space above. To one side of this, at the top end of the house, is the open plan kitchen, dining space and living area or ‘snug’. Another, quieter living space is located on the other side, from where the full length of the house can be seen with the surrounding landscape visible through the doors at the far end.
The Barn is Micah’s first project using CLT and has pioneered this method of construction in Northern Ireland. “CLT is a new product in Northern Ireland, but I’d seen it on several architectural websites and I knew I really wanted use it.” He says. “I looked at other options, but I kept going back to CLT.”
“It was fantastic working with Stora Enso and G-frame. Stora Enso took myself, my wife and the Grand Designs production team to their impressive Bad St Leonard’s CLT mill in Austria where I learned about the complete manufacture process.”
“I now have a deeper understanding of what can be achieved with CLT in terms of design and structure. CLT is a fast, efficient method of construction - it took just five days and one delivery to install the CLT structure. The G-frame team arrived on the Sunday and installed connectors, the CLT panels were delivered on the Monday morning and by Friday the CLT structure was complete and the G-frame team packed up and left. Also our site is up a long, winding lane with several sharp bends and these site constraints prove that with a little planning CLT can be used wherever the truck can get to.”
The County Down Barn is Northern Ireland’s first completed CLT building and has set a precedent with NI Building Control including a fire engineered solution which allowed the CLT to be left exposed internally. “This was good news as the CLT creates an incredibly warm and welcoming space and we wanted to keep it totally natural internally.” Says Micah. “The house isn’t a monument to architecture. It was more about building a home that could take the abuse of daily life and survive it. The wood is versatile and forgiving - if it’s stained from UV light, within a month it will return to its natural colour and, because it’s structural, we’ve been able to do things that would have been impossible otherwise, such as hanging a swing from a beam and slinging a large cargo net between a CLT floor slab and a beam. The kids love it.”
Images: Micah T Jones Architects