Crawshaw Architects: Stanbridge Mill Farm Library Dorset

In Wimborne Minster, a small town in Dorset, England, Aidan Crawshaw worked on a small functional recovery and regeneration project at a national heritage building. Stanbridge Mill Farm is a Georgian farm classified as cultural heritage, with a watermill and service areas arranged around a courtyard, including a barn. Forty years ago, the shed was transformed into a warehouse for the storage of agricultural machinery and materials.
Located in a part of the building to the east of the farmyard, this long sleeve was a one-story building with large swing doors, a gable roof, and wooden trusses.
Due to the historical value of the buildings, after the renovation of the main house, the owners decided to restore the old barn to house their own private collection. Anyone interested in architecture can come and consult a collection of works on Palladio, a source of inspiration for the development of Georgian architecture. Aidan Crawshaw and his London studio analyzed the original features of the building and decided which were worth keeping and restoring, such as the exterior brick walls, the lattice windowsthe roofs with their tall wooden trusses and skylights. Other details that weren’t original, such as small partitions dividing the interiors and damaged features such as floors, have been removed, adding little to the height of the building but adding significantly to its perceived size and its harmonious perspective. The new function required that the spaces be divided into three main areas, an entrance and a bathroom, the library itself and an office. An extension was then built, moving the entrance wall forward to create a large kitchen open to the farmyard. The most important part of the renovated building is the archive and reading room, where some important structural and insulating changes have been made, highlighting the symmetry from the original barn. Crawshaw Architects removed two of the historic timber trusses, replacing them with new ones Glued laminated timber supporting frames which have the same impact but stabilize the exterior walls. This gives way to three naves: two lower ones on each side, with false ceilings, and a central nave with a barrel vaulted ceiling, constructed with a freestanding solid oak frame. This well-proportioned composition of pillars and vaults integrates shelves, tables and chairs combining all the lightness of an ephemeral facility with the dramatic power of Renaissance architecture. Project documents indicate that Aidan Crawshaw and Pandora Dourmisi were inspired by the Long Room in the Library of Trinity College Dublin and, more importantly, Piero della Francesca’s painting of “Madonna with Child and Saints “, now kept at the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan.

To emphasize the historic reference to the original function of the building, the architects used the materials and construction techniques of local agricultural carpentry. The solid oak timber used with prominent natural knots and imperfections, assembled by simple carpentry where possible, alludes to traditional manual construction methods, allowing for a certain analogy between old and new uses of the building and combining the rural style with the formal perfection of perspectives and cross-sections.
The oak grid provided the perfect support to add the details characterizing the library: shelves, reading tables, chairs and even a sofa, designed to be transformed into a bed to offer yet another possible use of the room. New accessory elements are inspired by the doors and windows with crossbars and by the black steel frames, some of which are original while others have been rebuilt in the same style. These include the sconces, electrical outlets and the glass door to the office, which frames the view of the naves and the barrel-vaulted ceiling of the reading room.
The three original dormers on the same roof gable light the room moderately, creating a pleasant overall effect of chiaroscuro which makes the depth of the space perfectly readable.
The project has been shortlisted for the RIBA South West and Wessex Regional Award 2022.

Mara Corradi

Architects: Crawshaw Architects LLP
Client: Lord and Lady Phillimore
Location: Wimbourne, Dorset, England
Design Team: Pandora Dourmisi, Aidan Crawshaw
Structural Engineer: Hardman Structural Engineers
Contractor: CanDo Constructions Ltd.
Gross useful area: 117 m²
Land area: 213,000 m²
Competition: 2021
Start of work: February 2019
End of works: October 2021
Photographs: Ingrid Rasmussen