The smaller the building often the more difficult is to achieve a sympathetic renovation. Any new addition or material changes are not easy to hide and are at risk of dominating the original building. This example is an old horse stable built c1842, approximately 62 square metres in size, located in Hobart, Tasmania. It has been adapted into a residence by owner architects Elizabeth Walsh and Alex Nielsen. The building, known as ‘The Barn’, was originally stables for the Bulls Head Hotel, an establishment said to have once been described as a ‘hotbed of immorality and crime’. When they acquired the property, it was said to be structurally sound but in poor condition. According to Walsh: “The original sandstone walls, convict brick cobble floor, timber shingle roof and partitioned horse stall were intact with only small signs of wear and tear,” Walsh says. This was to be its first conversion.
The couple have said that their design approach reflects architectural approaches they have seen during their time travelling and living overseas. They are said to be inspired by ‘vernacular architecture’, which is a term nowadays used to describe the style of using local materials and traditional techniques.
While the couple fell in love with the building for its heritage value, any adaptation requires some change and puts original fabric at risk. Every alteration needs to be well considered and is usually impact by a budget constraint. In order to obtain the finance required, the home had to accommodate two ‘bedroom’ zones, one bathroom, and ample functional storage. It was made clear to them what they valued as an opportunity, the bank saw only as risk.
As the property is heritage listed, a condition of their permit was that they retain one of the original horse stalls. This central narrow stall space became the obvious location for the bathroom, and provided the opportunity to bring functional services to the centre of the building. The concept as explained by Walsh and Nielsen ended up being quite simple. The target was to retain as much of the existing building fabric as possible. Where services and amenity were required, they provided new insertions. Working within the original envelope of the barn, they created two distinctive spaces: a long, low one for dining and a tall, smaller space that showcases the original full height of the building while also revealing the underside of the original roof shingles that have been painstakingly cleaned by the architects.
All new work is distinguishable from existing fabric and much of the rich textures of the original stonework, timberwork and plasterwork remains.
Every opportunity to maximize space has been exploited. The new glazing finishes flush with the exterior sandstone with the inserted window boxes providing much needed ancillary storage space. Inside the sense of the barn’s original height has been maintained by making the adjacent spaces lower in addition to dividing the space according to the structure and spacing of the original horse stalls.
The architects have successfully saved a building that was at risk of deteriorating into a ruin. This project has won a number of awards and illustrates how really less can be more. Walsh and Nielsen work at separate architecture firms but collaborated on the project as workbylizandalex. The property is available for short term rental on Airbnb.
CreditsProject Architect: Workbylizandalex
Sources: Lucy Feagins, 'The Barn' The Design Files, 5th October 2015, Yellowtrace Team, 'Hobart Barn Conversion by Liz Walsh and Alex Nielsen', Yellowtrace, September 2016
Photographer: Sean Fennessy