Once every few years a project comes along that stands out from all the others. These projects are not always the biggest, or the most expensive, or the most ground breaking – but they are always the most fulfilling. And I don’t mean fulfilling in the warm fuzzy feeling sense of the word, I’m talking about the kind of fulfillment that you get after a particularly difficult training session, or from getting the mark you were aiming for in a harder-than-normal examination that you really had to grind for. I suppose another word for this type of fulfillment is pride, and the Ty Carreg project is something that we at The IAD Company will remain proud of for a very long time.
The West Aberthaw Barns were a collection of stone ruins located a few hundred meters away from the Aberthaw Power Station. The site consisted of several buildings, the oldest of which dates back over 800 years, in varying states of disrepair. From structures with most of the walls still intact but lacking roofs or windows, through to buildings that could only be identified by the footprint of their foundations.
The original developer purchased the site with a view to building four luxury homes, taking advantage of the secluded location, abundance of surrounding country side and clear sea views. As beautiful as the new houses would have been, this was not what destiny had in store for our Barns.
Part way through construction the site was noticed by specialist education and care provider Orbis. All the reasons that had made this site great for building luxury homes on made it even better as the site for a flagship residential care home for Orbis. The isolation, plethora of local countryside and calming influence of being so close to the sea all fed in to the site’s potential.
As those of you who work in the education and care sectors will know, there are very strict rules which regulate the care industry, including around accommodation. As those of you who work in the architecture and construction industry will know, there are also very strict rules when working on 800 year old grade II listed buildings. Yet as Orbis’ appointed architectural and interior design consultants for this project our job was to find the space in between all of the regulations and create something extraordinary within it.
Our first task was to make sure that the practical requirements of the Barns could be met. Our brief was to create a mixture of self-contained apartments and shared houses with space to provide forever homes for 12 adults with additional needs relating to the autistic spectrum.
As well as ensuring all the new rooms were large enough and complied with the relevant regulatory standards, we also had to make sure that each room had access to suitably sized windows, both for light and to meet fire regulations. Unlike most of our projects we had almost no flexibility to extend any of the Barns, or to alter, enlarge or add any windows or openings due to the listed status of the site. This meant that we had to get seriously creative with our internal layouts to make sure that all the new residents would have the best possible environments to live in.
After working through lots of options the pieces began to fall in to place and a floor plan that achieved everything we wanted to achieve came together. Now that we had a working layout we were able to go back in to planning with our Change of Use application, to have the site recategorized from a C3 use class to a C2. This was essential as construction could not start on these areas until the approval was granted.
At the time of this application the Aberthaw Barns project was the most significant conservation development taking place within the Vale of Glamorgan. This meant that the level of attention it garnered from the planning department was significantly higher than most of the other schemes we had previously worked on. At times this felt like a hindrance, as any hope of having 50/50 decisions slip through were swiftly dashed, and it was clear that every aspect of the development would be closely scrutinised. Over time however, the level of involvement from the planners allowed us to cultivate a strong working relationship which benefited everybody. We were able to get guidance and input on matters quickly and could trust that the planners really understood the site and the process we were going through when making decisions . In return the planners were able to get involved in the design process and learned to trust that we were all on the same side in wanting to celebrate and show off the history and character of the Barns.
One instance which highlighted the strength of this working relationship came when we informed the planning officers that we were hoping to include CCTV around the site. The initial response from the officers was less than encouraging, but rather than shut the idea down entirely we were able to open a dialogue about what they were actually objecting to. As part of the original development application an ecology plan had been put in place to make sure the local wildlife was not negatively impacted by the site. This had included a provision for several different types of bird nest to be dotted strategically around the site. Once we had established that the main concern of the officers was that the cameras would stand out against the Barn’s historical setting we developed a custom-built camera casing which imitated the design of the proposed swallow nests. Although these new camera cases would look out of place on most other schemes, they fit in with the historical and agricultural setting of the Barns and were therefore approved and installed throughout the development. You can see a picture of our custom CCTV birdboxes below. Similar discussions enabled us to include key fob entry systems and staff attack systems across the site.
After much more back and forth, negotiation, diplomacy and compromise the planning application was conditionally approved and we were able to proceed with building the new scheme. As most of the structural work had already been approved by building control as part of the original development we were able to proceed with the works while keeping them up to date with information on how we would meet any criteria that had been affected by the change of use (tougher fire regulations etc).
During the planning process our interior design team had been working hard on a full design package for the site. One of the challenges when designing a facility such as this is that you do not know who will be occupying the bedrooms until the design has already been installed. The goal therefore is to create environments which feel individual while appealing to everybody, and neutral while remaining playful. Not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination – thankfully the interiors team at IAD relish a challenge. Through research, collaboration, experience and hard work they came together and created a scheme that was practical, playful, fun and functional.
In response to the particular requirements of Orbis’ end users we incorporated heavy oak furniture which is very durable while remaining beautiful. We researched a paint palette of neutral and calming colours which was applied throughout both this project, and all other projects with similar users in mind. All the doors were designed to open against a wall to reduce the power with which they could be pushed open, and ligature risks presented by the huge beams spanning the barns were countered with lowered ceilings which allowed us to house spot lights and create large plant rooms within the roof voids. Bedroom floors had coved edges and where necessary discrete floor drains were incorporated in the design to help with cleaning. The bathrooms were all turned in to wet rooms using resin floors, and anti-ligature shower heads were built in to the walls during construction. These are just a handful of the design solutions which make Ty Carreg a state of the art facility.
You may notice in the photographs from this project that all the stone walls were painted white, this was due to another planning condition which mandated that only very breathable paint could be used on external walls. This was a problem for Orbis as most breathable paints are also terrible to clean and would absorb anything that was smeared on to them, making them unhygienic. Through a lot of research and a bit of good luck we eventually sourced a product which was breathable, wipeable and had a very similar appearance to the traditional lime render which is typically used in stone barn conversions. While a good practical solution this again left our interiors team with a tough job to bring enough colour in to the scheme, which they achieved using themed art work, bedding and window dressings.
From coming on board to project handover the West Aberthaw Barns project took around 18 months, by no means the longest project we have worked on as a company. But the level of detail, involvement, planning, and uniqueness of this project made it have a much bigger impact on us as a company than almost any other we have been involved in – as well as a greater sense of pride in the final product.
After Ty Carreg opened its doors, we submitted the project to the prestigious Building Better Healthcare awards. The winners were announced in December and I’m delighted to report that we received the Highly Commended award for Best Mental Health Development. We were all honoured to receive this award and are looking forward to submitting some of our upcoming projects to next year’s contest.
I know I speak for everyone here at The IAD Company when I wish all the staff and residents of Ty Carreg a happy ever after in their new forever homes.
I have included some images of the project in this post, but if you would like to see more pictures from this project and from some of the other Education & Care schemes we have been working on recently, please click here.