Winning planning permission for Shawm House was by no means a straightforward process. Within the curtilege of a listed Bastle building and classed as 'open countryside' Shawm was only granted planning permission under exception clause Paragraph 55 of the NPPF recognising the 'exceptionally high quality of design'.
That high quality of design was the result of working closely with our main design lead, Dan Kerr, of MawsonKerr architects in Newcastle, someone whom we selected not only for their architectural and environmental credentials but for their enthusiasm and buy-in to the ethos of the project, challenging as we knew it would be. It was also the result of an extensive period of consultation with local planners and the input of planning consultants, landscape architects, ecologists, and even Newcastle University for energy modelling and consultancy.
Regardless of the planning pressure to design something exceptional in response to the demands of Paragraph 55 it had always been our intention as clients to commission a piece of architecture. Keen to avoid the poor pastiche trap we wanted an architecture that was distinct but respectful.
In adopting a simple barn like form, and employing local materials that are of the vernacular, but doing so in a bold contemporary way, we like to think we have produced a building that doesn't mimic but evolves local architecture in a manner sensitive to the context that surrounds it and the history that precedes it. In this regard we were inspired during the design stage by buildings such as Ty Pren by Feilden Fowles in the Brecon Beacons, and Barn House by BuroII in Belgium.
.It is my strong belief that form should never override function but that truly successful design maximises both. Great buildings lift the soul but they also serve a purpose facilitating and easing the lives of their occupants and users. Thus environmental integrity, both in build and performance, was key to Shawm. As was the internal lay-out, accessibility, and usability, in light of it's intended elderly occupants.
To this end Shawm was built of timber frame employing Passivhaus principles (the orientation of the site negated our ability to actually achieve Passivhaus) entailing a super-insulated, air-tight fabric and mechanical ventilation with heat recovery. Low energy LED lighting throughout further reduces the energy demand of the building. Integrated provide the energy that is required are renewable technologies in the form of a small biomass boiler stove and a solar photovoltaic array. In addition the building captures and re-uses rainwater via a rainwater harvesting system.
Shawm is set up as an "upside-down" house. The reason being to capture and make the most of the extensive views of the river valley below. To counter the impracticality of this for elderly folks climbing stairs with shopping etc a small lift was installed from the start, future-proofing against immobility. In the same vein the building is set up with disabled access in mind; level thresholds, wide doors, ramps instead of steps, electric blinds and curtains, intercom front door control.