How Prosper put its own principles into practice when developing its new studio in Eversholt

Prosper was able to employ its own principles when developing its new studio in Eversholt.

In this article, Ken Wallace explains the process of developing and extending the new shared workspace and how the Prosper team were able to overcome the complex and challenging planning issues which surrounded the existing building fabric.

Prosper’s new studio embodies many architectural, branding and design principles of our client work. With input from the whole team, transforming this barn into a larger modern workspace has helped to create an inspiring and collaborative studio for the new company, as Ken Wallace explains.

Prosper’s formation in 2017 fused together two businesses with different disciplines and locations - an architectural practice in Milton Keynes with a design studio in Harpenden. So a new shared workspace needed to suit the team as a whole and represent the values of the newly formed company.

Location, location and character too

In a rural setting on the edge of the Duke of Bedford’s Woburn estate, Water End Barns in Eversholt ticked the location box. The barns are just north of junction 12 on the M1 so roughly between Milton Keynes and Harpenden geographically. There’s also good access to London and elsewhere via major roads and a nearby railway station.

Originally a Victorian model farm, Water End Barns was converted from agricultural to commercial use in the mid 1990s, to create 8 separate office units. With its rustic brick structure and exposed timber roof trusses, Unit 1 had bags of character and aesthetic appeal but the space needed modernising.

Creating capacity

The existing unit was also not big enough - with room for 18 when it needed to house 30. The landlord was keen to let the unit, so we proposed the concept of a big glass box to enlarge the space - a notion he fell in love with.

Adding a glass extension at the back of the building, along one side of its L shape would accommodate 12 more people. To futureproof the space further, he’d give us the option to knock through to the adjoining unit if it became vacant, to accommodate another 10-12 people.

In pursuit of planning permission

On any architectural project, planning permission can be a stumbling block, and so it was with our extension plans. But we’re known for our ability to navigate complex planning issues and gain a favourable result (especially with historic buildings and in conservation areas), so we applied our skills here!

Water End Barns is within the green belt where extending commercial buildings is not normally permitted, so Central Bedfordshire’s planning department swiftly said no. But with research, we found planning documents for the original conversion from agricultural to office use, where permission had been granted for an extension which was never implemented.

We argued that our proposed extension was the same size as this unimplemented element that already had planning permission. Knowing that, the planners couldn’t really say no! Also, being positioned at the back of the building, the extension was not visible from the surrounding public spaces. 

Working around workers

With planning permission obtained in Summer 2016, construction took six months. The interior and branding team moved in during construction, so worked around the builders. Operating from the old part first, they then briefly squeezed into the new extension while the original building was updated.

Yet this proved useful, as the brand designers could see the physical space that would represent Prosper coming together, while they were still working on the branding and signage for the new premises.

Now it’s complete, the new office really reflects the various skills and values of our practice as architects, brand and interior designers; it touches upon a lot of elements that we offer to clients.

Marrying the contrasts

Architecturally, the success is how the new space marries the rustic brick and slate of this early 19th century agricultural barn with the contemporary glass extension.  The final result is a striking intervention.

The architectural trick in making the contrasts work together is to understate and use minimal materials and shapes on the intervention so it’s not competing. The extension’s large glass wall, measuring 14m wide and 2.5m high, is framed by a simple metal fascia above in dark grey aluminium. 

The original external wall has now become an internal wall inside the extension, so the exposed rustic brick inside adds warmth to soften the space. The new glass wall also adds light and pleasant courtyard views without having to punch new openings through the historic walls and roof.

Showcasing sustainability

We were also keen for our offices to represent the sustainable values of our client work. We were not permitted to put solar panels on the roof and the Duke of Bedford doesn’t welcome wind turbines so we installed an air source heat pump to supply heating and cooling to the building.

An air source heating system looks air conditioning but can heat the building up to 30 degrees by extracting incremental amounts of heat from the air - which is very eco-friendly and cost effective too.

Creating the right atmosphere

Visitors say they really like the ambience. The space has a warmth to it, despite all the hard materials, thanks to the exposed brick and ample wood elements. The fusion of clean and modern with rustic and historic is very pleasing.

The interior is restrained but very high quality, with some interesting and unique pieces of furniture. The most notable of these is the large bespoke oak table. Three enormous planks of oak stitched together to create a three-inch-thick table top that sits on raw steel legs. This echoes the pairing of rustic and raw natural materials with modern, more industrial ones.

Various elements of the branding have also been incorporated into the building, such as graphics on the windows and signage.

Shaping our space

Perhaps the biggest success is that virtually everyone working in this building has had some input into shaping the space, to create something they can be proud of and enjoy spending time in. The result is an inspiring and collaborative space to work in.

Ken Wallace

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