Peak District National Park Design Awards

PUBLISHED: 14:22 28 April 2010 | UPDATED: 15:00 20 February 2013

Carriage House

Carriage House

An important aspect to maintaining the beauty of our countryside lies in ensuring that any new developments are in harmony with the landscape.Mike Smith investigates the results of the Peak District National Park's Design Awards

The Peak District National Park contains 3,000 farms, two towns and 100 settlements that qualify as villages or hamlets, which amounts to an awful lot of buildings. In the words of the Peak District National Park Authority's newly published Design Guide, 'There are few places in the national park where a building cannot be seen.' The handbook also contains a clear warning to developers: 'In adding new buildings we have the power to enhance or harm the special characteristics of the area.'
In an effort to help would-be developers, the guide specifies those qualities that make buildings 'seem right' in their setting. The use of local stone helps new structures to fit into the landscape and blend with their neighbours; 'simplicity of design and horizontality of form' allow natural features to make their presence felt without being diminished by showy man-made intrusions and respect for local styles helps to preserve unity.

Given these constraints, it is not easy to introduce genuinely modern architecture into an area like the Peak District. Many developers simply opt for imitations of past styles, which often end up as bland versions of the vernacular or as pastiches that devalue the original. In an effort to improve the quality of new building, the national park authority is actively promoting 'polite' architecture, defined as designs which are complementary to surrounding buildings, rather than identical to them.

The Design Guide contains scores of helpful illustrations of good mannered local architecture from the past and present. More recent exemplars include those buildings that have been short-listed or awarded prizes in the Peak District National Park's Design Awards, a brand new competition aimed at recognising good practice.

Judged by the distinguished triumvirate of Professor John Tarn, Ann Robinson (former chair of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England), and Derek Latham of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), the competition attracted 14 entries. The winner was the David Mellor Design Museum at Hathersage (featured in the April 2007 edition of Derbyshire Life and Countryside).

Designed by Sir Michael Hopkins, the glass-fronted museum stands opposite David Mellor's circular cutlery factory, which is also the work of Hopkins and occupies the footprint of a former gas-holder. The new museum forms an almost invisible link between two other old gasworks buildings on the site, one of which is in use as a shop and the other as offices and accommodation.

A fabulous display of David Mellor's celebrated cutlery and silverware, from the 1950s to the present, is housed in cabinets along the back wall of the museum. These wall units are divided from the caf area at the front of the building by a linear display of street furniture that was also designed by Mellor. Ranging from a set of traffic lights, through bollards and litter bins, to a square post-box, the artefacts are supplemented by examples of stylish, clean-cut furniture produced by David's son, Corin.
All the internal fittings in the museum and caf were designed by Corin and the building was largely constructed by David Mellor's own workforce, who used reclaimed pitch pine, along with steel and glass, for the body of the building, lead that was hand-cast in the traditional manner for the roof and local stone for the external terracing.

Waxing lyrically about this innovative and contextually appropriate building, the judges described it as the final unit in 'a campus of design, production, marketing and tourism, which is an example of sustainable entrepreneurship in the Peak Park'. One judge even likened the new museum to a 'medieval cloister'.

The runner-up in the design competition was Frederick's Gelateria in Bakewell, which is the result of a conversion commissioned by John Frederick after he had bought a tiny sweet shop that had just two storeys and a narrow frontage to the pavement on Bridge Street. A believer in 'small is beautiful', John was determined to maximise the use of this small space and insert a state-of-the-art interior that would be hidden behind a traditional faade.

John's vision has been brilliantly realised by Adam Bench Architects of Buxton, who have made imaginative use of steel and glass to create a stunning and dramatic three-storey interior. Natural light, which enters through new roof-lights and a large first-floor window, permeates to ground level through all-glass floors. The first-floor caf, which has stylish Italian furniture, almost seems to be suspended in space.

To facilitate these drastic interior alterations, the architects have changed entry to the shop from right to left and, to bring high-tech design unobtrusively into the heart of Bakewell, they have given the gelateria a traditional faade based on a study of Victorian and Edwardian examples. The shop front can be dropped into a cavity to allow interaction with customers on the street, who can choose from 16 different flavours of ice cream, all produced from an Italian recipe brought over to England by John's great-grandfather in 1898.

Three other buildings made the Design Award short-list. They include a Bakewell scheme that has seen the replacement of a group of 90-year-old brick and asbestos buildings, which housed anti-aircraft guns during the Second World War, by a complex containing a new ATS centre, six two-bedroom flats for the over-55s and a landscaped parking and garden area. All the new buildings are fashioned in the vernacular style; stone for the development, which is the work of Allan Joyce Architects, has come from local quarries and on-site rubble has been re-used to make new boundary walls.

Whereas an eyesore in the heart of Bakewell was eliminated by a demolition followed by a re-build, a blight on the Winster conservation area was removed by the complete re-skinning of an ungainly house that was constructed in the 1960s in the garden of Winster Hall. Entered for the design award by Jacqui and Steve Salfied, the garden house earned a place on the short-list because unsightly Davy blocks were replaced by a more appropriate skin of limestone, sourced from Bradwell and Monyash, and the building was given new window and door openings with surrounds of gritstone quarried in Birchover.

As well as the insertion of several modern features, such as a three-storey hall with roof lights, a set of fold-back interior glass doors and an individually-designed, locally-built conservatory, the far-reaching make-over includes the addition of a walled garden made from a tarmac car park area.

The third of the short-listed buildings is an old carriage house in the grounds of Thornbridge Hall, which has been restored by Chris Gothard Associates to form accommodation and leisure facilities. Conservation carried out during the conversion not only includes the retention of key architectural features, but also the preservation of maternity roosts for several species of bat that were found in the roof space.
However, the most spectacular aspects of the conversion are the opening up of the carriage store rooms to a large glazed atrium, sited under the original courtyard canopy, and the transformation of the boiler room, fuel stores and air-raid shelters in the basement into a subterranean bar and entertainment area.

As these five award-winning projects demonstrate, there is no single recipe for constructing an appropriate new building in a national park, but there are two essential ingredients: good design and a polite respect for neighbouring buildings.

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