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Community Projects

We’re very excited to announce that we have been appointed to prepare proposals for creative alterations and extension to children's nurseries in the south west.

We were approached to design and plan the reconfiguration of these two nurseries so that the interior and exterior spaces are better utilised to provide all the necessary areas required to operate a nursery for the local community.

With an increase in demand for nursery facilities in their respective neighbourhoods, design interventions were required to better utilise the buildings to their maximum capacity and provide quality spaces to nurture a learning environment. In this post, we’ll look closely at the design process for one of these designs.

Design Aims

We began the design process by discussing with the clients what they hoped to achieve from working with an architect and what ideas and visions they had. Some of the key ideas from the clients were:

  • To Improve the views and connections between the classrooms and the playground by enlarging the existing openings with french doors and bifold doors.

  • To improve the tight corridors, particularly in the entrance area or perhaps remove them all together.

  • To make better use of some of the underused areas of the building, particularly in the first floor loft space, and in the large storage outbuilding and log cabin which are separated from the main building.

  • Provide additional classroom areas for children of different ages.

Existing Ground Floor Proposed Ground Floor


Green - Office / Blue - W.C. / Purple - Kitchen / Orange - Storage Space / Yellow - Log Cabin

Design Approach

Our design approach was to reconfigure the existing ground floor to create bigger rooms which could host multiple activities. These bigger rooms eliminated the existing entry corridor ensuring better access to the building entrance and between the interior spaces. More glazing and exterior doors provide views and connections to the exterior spaces. We have proposed to move the log cabin classroom to become part of the play area and be used as an outdoor learning space. In the cabin’s place, we proposed to build a small extension to accommodate bigger office space that would link the main building and the garage which we have proposed as classroom and storage space.

On the first floor we proposed a dormer roof to create increased interior space which will accommodate sleeping space for the nursery's youngest.

The design proposal creates all the necessary spaces for the nursery to operate with increased numbers and meets the design aims the clients had hoped to achieve. We have pitched our design idea to the client who has given very positive feedback. We will post any further updates in the near future.

We are pleased to report the successful planning application for conversion of an agricultural barn into a new three bedroom dwelling located in Long Ashton, Bristol. The planning process has not been without its challenges, so we are really pleased that we have now resolved a successful scheme and we can start developing the technical drawings for the construction of this energy efficient new home.

About the Project

Our clients sought our creativity to help design their barn conversion in what is a very difficult plot with a number of challenges to overcome. This barn in particular is in a state of disrepair with much of the existing building fabric in a dilapidated state. It's built into the hillside on a sloping site and the internal head height could potentially limit the design to a single storey.

To complicate matters further, the site is located within the greenbelt and within a scheduled monument. There are a number of listed buildings nearby and the site is in fact a working farm. Building conversions are renowned for being complex and difficult. Adapting existing buildings for new use requires careful consideration of the existing structure, the surrounding environment, and the internal viability of the building.

Planning Challenges

In theory, projects such as this offer an attractive route in gaining planning permission. Building conversions are actively encouraged in the National Planning Policy Framework [NPPF], the government's planning policy guidelines for England, as they present an opportunity to provide much needed new dwellings in rural areas without the need to construct new buildings which might damage the character of the countryside or require new infrastructure.

However, local planning authorities are sensitive to ensuring that buildings are suitable for reuse and can be converted without significant alteration. In our case, we were required to prove that 70% of the original structure would be retained as part of the proposed design.

This poses a challenge as agricultural buildings such as this were never designed to be lived in. There’s rarely enough head height to comfortably fit two floors, further still the lightweight construction materials of the building fabric were never put in place to keep the interior warm or the elements completely out. The lack of any weather proofing and insulation means this has to be factored into the design and cost. Barn conversions can resist domestic habitation unless approached with great care and caution. It's hard to get it right. One thing is for sure, you have to tread carefully.

The Final Design

We were able to demonstrate the necessary level of retention for planning, with a design which would seek to keep the existing blockwork walls at low level, upgraded with external wall insulation, as well as selective repair and upgrade of the timber structure above in order to align the building fabric with current building regulations.

We incorporated a split level design to strike a balance between the quality of the interior spaces and to ensure all the desired rooms are realised. The split level concept ensures the spaces we occupy for much of the day such as the lounge, kitchen, dining room, and office are light, airy, and comfortable. Spaces we occupy less frequently such as the bedrooms and bathrooms are cosy and intimate whilst maintaining a high quality feel. The split floor levels also provide a better connection between the primary living spaces and the upper and lower gardens compared to what otherwise would have been achieved had we pursued a traditional two-storey proposal.

Planning for the ventilation of a building is crucial to ensure the comfort, health, and safety of a building's occupants as well as the longevity of the building itself. It is also a principle componant of the "fabric first" approach of passive house design where the energy (warm air) within the house is controlled and conserved to ensure it's energy efficiency.

Large sliding doors together with an airtight construction can give light, comforable conditions throughout the year.

What are the types of ventilation within a building?

Ventilation is the process of extracting stale air, from active rooms such as bathrooms, utility and living spaces to the outside. All buildings need both 'background ventilation' (a continuous trickle of clean air) and 'purge ventilation' which can respond to changing conditions (eg cooking or showers) and extract a large volume of air quickly. As well as this, clients may wish to choose between 'natural' and 'mechanical' ventilation options. Natural is the most common form of ventilation for a typical house as the materials and the construction strategy allow for a building to be ventilated by natural air movement. This can involve trickle vents positioned in doors and windows in order for fresh air to enter the interior as well as openable windows which can purge the space.

Traditionally, opening and closing a combination of windows and doors allows fresh air into a building. This in collaboration with the building fabric allows the building to breath, although in most cases not adequately.

This may sound like the sustainable approach, but in fact natural ventilation can be somewhat difficult to control, either by occupants forgetting to open and close windows, or especially in older houses, where the venilation relies upon gaps within the building fabric which are difficult to seal. This can lead to uncomfortable drafts and energy loss on cold windy days, but also the builds up of moisture which can cause condensation and mould growth. This is often combated with the use of a dehumidifier. Better still, mechanically ventilating the home can solve these issues whilst providing a host of other benefits.

What is mechanical ventilation and why is it being used?

The other form of ventilation is mechanical which is more commonly used in modern buildings that are well sealed & airtight. Mechanical ventilation is the process by which fresh air is brought into a building interior by way of a machine that can be controlled and adjusted as needed. This machine essentially consists of a fan that draws fresh air inward whilst another fan exhausts stale air outward. This is known as an air exchange.

The volume of fresh air required for an efficient level of ventilation of a space is determined by factoring in the size, the number of inhabitants and the use of a space. The quantity of air supplied to a space, expressed in terms of the number of times the total volume of air in the space is replaced in a specific period of time, is typically one hour. Issues of condensation are also resolved with the implementation of a Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) unit as the outgoing stale air, in which water vapour sits, is extracted from the interior spaces whilst also passively heating the incoming fresh air. As the stale air is cooled upon extraction, a small reservoir captures any condensation and drains it away; the same is also true for cool incoming air being passively heated. Smart controls could also be implemented along with sensors to determine when a space is in need of more air changes either due to a temperature rise, an increase in occupants or other factors.

As we develop ever more efficient and airtight buildings, the requirement of mechanical ventilation becomes a sensible consideration in order to control air quality, ventilation rate and heat removal from our interior inhabited spaces. The mechanical ventilation system of choice today is one with heat recovery which further improves the comfort to the inhabitants as well as boosting the efficiency credentials of a building. This ventilation strategy is being used to counteract heat loss in highly insulated homes via the ventilation system and is far more efficient than earlier variations of mechanical ventilation as heat is recovered from stale outgoing air without ever mixing with the fresh supply. Over time, this technology has further developed to include filters on the incoming air supply to remove pollen and other elements from the incoming air which has been proven to create a safer habitat for those with respiratory issues.

The sketch below details how a Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery system (MVHR) operates.

The process of a Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery System

  1. Cool, fresh air from outside is drawn inside via a fan and filtered to remove dust and other fine particles

  2. Incoming cool air is heated passively in the heat exchanger and distributed throughout the building

  3. Warm, stale air is drawn from interior spaces

  4. Outgoing stale air is cooled passively in the heat exchanger and exhausted from the building. Cooling the outgoing stale air removes the moisture which is drained away

  5. Filtering the incoming air helps people with respiratory issues such as asthma.

Project Focus

In a previous article on airtightness, we discussed how Wellington Lane in Bristol was constructed to airtight standards. As a result, there are no unintentional drafts or air leaks and so a mechanical form of ventilation was integrated into the build to provide a continuous and constant supply of fresh air to the building interior. Simultaneously, the stale interior air is exhausted outward and the heat from this air is exchanged to the incoming air supply. This benefits the inhabitants as they are receiving fresh air that is at a temperature that feels comfortable and so creates a comfortable interior environment throughout the day. Without this heat exchange, the incoming fresh air would feel cool and affect the comfort of the interior environment.

The continuous exchange of air is also beneficial to the building structure as moisture is wicked away from the interior spaces and eliminates the chance of rot and mould growth. This is especially true in high moisture environments such as the bathroom and kitchen.

The cross section of Wellington Lane below highlights the location of the MVHR unit and the supply of fresh air to the interior spaces. The exchanger is highlighted in purple which is where the heat recovery occurs from the stale outgoing air (not shown) and the incoming supply of fresh air (highlighted in blue). We can also see how the ducting is hidden in the floor/ceiling assembly and out of sight in the finished construction.

A cross section of Wellington Lane, Bristol showing how an MVHR was integrated into the design and final build

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