an accessibly highland bothy around an existing stone barn
This project was to convert a church hall, which had been a much loved nursery, into a compact accessible living space. Using the front of the hall and carving out a courtyard to allow light into the depth of the spaces, arranged around the courtyard, giving each of them a connection to outside private space, as well as longer views out of the front. Each space has its own character, further enhanced by the colour and choice of materials and objects considerately placed by the client. Spatial and visual connections between each room were of great importance, to make a small place feel spacious.
As an existing church hall, the building already had a presence on the wide street, with its variety of scales of townhouses. With the ramp crossing the whole width of the building, a layering was set up, which we continued with layers of timber on the rendered front wall. The timber connects to the burnt larch timber cladding in the inner courtyard.
The client for the project was very hands on. From the design process through the whole build process, where she managed all the trades, and was involved in parts of the construction, including scorching all the burnt larch for the cladding herself (and really beautifully!)
The project is sustainable, in the decision to re-use an existing building which was no longer suitable for its purpose, in its choice of building materials, and just as importantly, in its inclusive, accessible nature. With a ramped entrance to get to a level ground floor with a main bedroom, wet room, and living and kitchen space, as well as a small snug / second bedroom. The roof space has been converted into a third bedroom and wet room. The accessible concept makes it a lifetime home for anyone.
In a week’s time we will be celebrating the very best in Scottish Design (from Digital Design to Corporate Design, Craft to Architecture), at the Scottish Design Awards 2019. We are delighted that our future project, with JM Architects, for the Yard Dundee, has been shortlisted. The Yard are an amazing client, who provide a brilliant environment for children with disabilities offering the chance for creative adventurous indoor and outdoor play in a well-supported environment. The Yard strongly believes disabled children should be offered the same opportunities as their peers to get involved in risky play to help them develop, learn and build friendships and find their own limits. The future building in Dundee will support this process, and has been designed as an enabling environment, where each child or young person finds the spaces they need.
We are delighted that our concept design for The Yard Dundee has been shortlisted for future building, in the Scottish Design awards 2019. It is an exciting project for us, with fabulous clients, and lots of creative engagement and workshops with users, feeding into the design process.
3D render images by Nick Dalgety.
Re-thinking a two storey house, that was no longer working for the family, we developed the design in collaboration with the clients to create an open plan but articulated living garden room, with kitchen, sitting, dining, activity wall, window seat to the herb courtyard, and much better connection to the existing garden. This frees up the existing sitting room, either for teenagers to use, or in the future could be an accessible ground floor bedroom, making this a lifetime home. Like many houses the connections between inside and outside, and the connections between spaces for different uses needed to be re-designed, to create a flexible inclusive accessible family home
This project is to extend and convert an existing lodge, so that the Glasgow Disabled Scouts can use it more inclusively and accessibly. the idea is that outside and inside spaces will work well together, enabling more of the Scouts outdoor activities and adventures to happen. The design process has been inclusive, with co-design creative workshops informing the building.
Last year Doing Disability Differently by Jos Boys was published. My sensory description of Vals Therme, from Greta’s point of view, was included, as well as a critique of our Ramp House. I am now working with Katie Lloyd Thomas on Jos Boy’s follow up reader: our chapter The Ramp House: Building Inclusivity, will explore the planning, building and inhabitation of the ramp house as an ongoing process of inclusivity.
Thea MacMillan – Experiencing Zumthor
The way that Zumthor’s spaces are perceived: in Vals Therme, each space has been considered sensorially; the searing heat of the 40° bath reflected by burning red terracotta walls, which change from highly glazed to porous rough at the line where the water laps, contrasted by the cool turquoise water of the central pool and the sharp air rolling down from the surrounding mountains to lie on top of the outdoor pool. Guided by the continuity of the touch of the changing stone in each changing space; offering different sensory experiences, using contrast and heightened touch, hearing, and smell.
Perception: coming into the space from above, the sound is first, then the weight of the leather curtain pushed aside, followed by smell. For anyone disabled who has learnt to use their senses differently to complete pictures, this place offers many different clues. The spatial configuration of open plan and smaller contained spaces and the connections between them, gives a complex aural feedback for the visually impaired to construct the space in their minds.
Movement through the spaces, whilst not supportive of all wheelchair users, with its slow long flat steps, provides added layers of sensory experience for those who can climb them. As this almost offers the inclusive experience of moving through changing space, it seems a missed opportunity not to have a ramp.
Thea McMillan 11/09/13
“Ultimately, of course, the aim is redefine what constitutes the normal  ‘
The principle of the ramp house was to design and build a family home for a little girl who is a wheelchair user, where the whole house enables her to lead a barrier free included life. We are often confronted with the physical barriers that the built environment presents; in our own home we were able to design a fully inclusive place; using a ramp to access all levels, provides an equality of space to us all. We have designed spaces along the ramp, connecting both horizontally and vertically, so that the experience of the house changes as it unfolds.
The difference that the ramp makes is in how the spaces are experienced; this is both linear and sectional, and the opportunities to look back or forward into other spaces. The ramp contributes both width and height to each of the different pausing places along the way. As we inhabit the house, we can see how this provides variation, complexity, and flexibility in the everyday use of the house, how many spaces can be used concurrently and how it reaches its potential when it is inhabited: movement around it, by foot or on wheels brings the experience to life.
For a child who cannot move around independently, the connectivity of the spaces becomes all the more important. If Greta is in the living room, there are six different spaces that we can be in and move between, and she is still able to see and hear us, and communicate with us.’
“here, movement through the space is not separated out as ‘accessible circulation’ but formally interwoven with both how family life is lived, and with the multiple registers through which we engage with the material world simultaneously. Greta is neither a special case nor an unconsidered ‘anyone’: she is just one of the members of the family; as she says herself, ‘I am just a very busy eight year old and like everyone else, I just need a place which allows me to get on with things'” Jos Boys, Doing Disability Differently, Routledge.
Last week we celebrated the ground breaking for The Rings wheelchair accessible holiday cottages, with Fergus Ewing Scottish Minister for Tourism, Energy and Enterprise. This project has been through quite a process with planning, despite having an SDRP grant for the Scottish Government’s Farm Diversification Project. The Minister spoke about the importance of accessible tourism and described the building as iconic and world class: we now look forward to these cottages being built, and offering people the chance to have a fully accessible and restful holiday in the beautiful Fife countryside.
Every three months a magazine called life style drops through our letterbox. You can’t buy this in the shops for love nor money, but is sent out to the 400,000 motability car owners. Each issue has at least one story of people who have taken their circumstances and used them to make things more accessible for others as well as themselves. Ian thought that they might want to know about our story so emailed them, and we were interviewed by a lovely journalist who understood our situation through her own experience. Since the magazine came out we have had a number of really lovely comments and enquiries, just reminding us how many people are in similar circumstances to ours, needing inclusive environments designed for them. It seems we are becoming a specialist practice without trying. lifestyle ability
The new architecture policy is called Creating Places, which immediately conjures an image of places which are inclusive and rich in design: unfortunately the document itself fails to discuss (let alone promote) both the necessity and the creative benefits of designing physically accessible places. Whilst Scotland is very keen to look to Denmark for inspiration, unfortunately this document doesn’t look hard enough at what would actually make these places successful.
Having been part of the consultation process for the new policy, and having been disappointed at the complete lack of any mention of accessibility in the finished document, I was very happy to be asked by the Architects Journal for my views on it:
I was involved in the consultation process, and was also part of a focus group which met to specifically discuss accessibility (Consultation on inclusive access as part of the development of the Scottish Government’s new policy on architecture and placemaking) but as you will notice from reading the policy, very little of this is reflected in the finished document, even though it was a varied group, and we had a constructive and broad-reaching discussion.
So my comment on the new Scottish architecture policy is that in order to make ‘successful places’, physical accessibility and inclusion needs to be considered at every point in the process. Not only is this fair and necessary, but thinking differently, designing places where barriers are removed opens up opportunities of moving through spaces differently, particularly important with Scotland’s changing demographic. Design that starts from a base of inclusivity and accessibility offers a much richer environment for everyone. You only need to experience some of the public spaces in Copenhagen (eg. SEB Bank and Pension, otherwise know as the skaters park, or Snohetta’s Opera House in Oslo)
Accessibility is only really mentioned right at the end of the document, in passing, whereas it should both permeate everything that is written, and have its own section (just like sustainability, cultural connections, and engagement). This lack doesn’t surprise me really given that RIAS refuse to let our practice state accessible design as one of our specialisms, but if Scottish Government are going to bring together people to discuss accessibility and inclusion, and if they are going to continually invite people from Denmark as keynote speakers, because they admire their approach to place making, then they need to think about how accessibility effects both positively and negatively every space that we design and use. The front page mentions how architecture should “enrich our lives as individuals and as a society” and this would have been a perfect opportunity to introduce inclusive design as a constructive and forward looking idea.
Stroll along to your nearest newsagent in the friday lunchtime sun, and pick up the new copy of Homes and Interiors Scotland. We are in the first feature, This Life, five double page spreads. The best bit was answering their questions and answers:
Edinburgh’s best kept secret: The Skylark restaurant and bar on the High Street: its Manhattan meets Portobello.