Bringing old barns back with new tricks
Converting a derelict barn into a home has never been for the faint-hearted. Tussles with local planners and conservationists have discouraged even the most determined buyers in search of rural idyll.
Now, the use of advanced building technology, including lasers and drones, is assisting a new breed of barn conversions. It’s allowing complex restoration projects to be assessed more accurately, and managed more efficiently by bigger developers, using building information modelling, a 3D design process for planning. The result for buyers is a speedier, less stressful alternative to tackling a single conversion themselves.
Developer Hill has just completed the restoration of Anstey Hall Barns, the re- mains of a Saxon farm on the outskirts of Cambridge. Eight Grade II listed buildings, including a dovecote, granary and cart lodge, have been turned into contemporary four and five-bedroom family homes. They sit alongside four new-build courtyard barns with vaulted ceilings, exposed beams and double-height entrance halls, designed to reflect their ancient counterparts.
The project has taken three years to complete, with technology being the key to the restoration process. “It was the first time that we used lasers to scan the buildings to see their condition before work commenced,” says Mike Beckett, the director of Hill. It was also a first for the planning officer assigned to the project to use the technological evidence to sign off the work. “We were able to show 3D computer imagery and models of what we intended to do. We could cut sections into the building at any place and show the planner the juxtaposition of the new building against the existing one, and how we were going to treat it,” adds Beckett. “The rotten barns were unpredictable, so for us it meant fewer chances to make mistakes.”
Full planning permission and listed building consent were required to do the conversion. Beckett also worked closely with the local conservation officer to meet their objectives of preserving the heritage and changing the use of the now-redundant farm buildings.
All the renovations had to be done in situ, so the process included supporting some of the more frail buildings, while the Hill team worked on strengthening the foundations. Drones were used to give a true picture of the site during construction, and helped to create accurate computer-generated images of the barns.
Reusing as much of the original ex- ternal materials as possible was a requirement of planning and conservation rules. Clay roof tiles, Welsh slate, red and gault Cambridgeshire bricks and weatherboarding have been retained. An artisan craftsman was commissioned to renovate the brickwork using lime render, with much of it now exposed as a key feature in the homes.
“Nobody in the technical world could help us with the problem of retaining the arrowslit windows,” adds Beckett. He devised his own standard, exposing the arrow slits from within, making them weathertight, and also making sure they complied with the re-
Anstey Hall Barns before its renovation, left; after, main and right