The Autobarn is the realisation of our client’s long-term dream to house his collection of classic German cars. The project is composed of two volumes: a clean, five-bay garage for everyday use and a taller workshop for repairs and future restoration projects, also containing storage and toilet facilities. As well as satisfying this initial use, the project ambition was to create a flexible, ‘long-life, loose-fit’ building that could be used for a range of different uses. Currently it doubles up as event space, however the long-term ambition is for the Autobarn to be converted into a low-energy house for members of the extended family.
Located on the outskirts of a small Somerset village, the project is set within the grounds of an eighteenth-century Grade 2 listed house.
It replaces several haphazard smaller outbuildings and consolidates their amenity into an elegant architectural proposal that is nestled within a glade of mature trees and is subservient to the original listed house.
The project’s design takes inspiration from neighbouring agricultural barns. As a practice we are interested in reassessing the rural vernacular, both for its contextual appropriateness, but also its lessons in low-cost, pragmatic design. As such, the Autobarn re-interprets simple forms and methods of construc+on, adapting more temporary, rudimentary methods into a robust and elegant paradigm for low-cost, rural architecture.
Like many barns, the project is first experienced as closed and solid from the outside however the walls open via a number of doors and screens, revealing large openings that look onto the surrounding garden. The primary opening includes a sideways electric door for frequently used cars, glazed sliding doors and an heroic 7m sliding timber screen. The intermittent timber slats of the screens create internal dappled light during the day, which is reversed at night as interior lighting illuminates the surrounding landscape.
The construction language also evokes agricultural barns, with concrete base, expressed steel framed structure, intermittent timber cladding and metal roof. However, upon closer inspection the treatment and assembly of these components has been readjusted, exploring varying levels of refinement. Consideration has been given to the weathering of the building over +me: the natural-finished zinc roof will dull and complement the silver patination of the sweet chestnut cladding. The cladding battens follows an open laQce design, reducing the cladding by 30%, thus improving affordability. The building is raised off the ground with an insitu concrete base, articulated both externally and internally where it provides an adaptable, tough floor surface to accommodate its use.
Internally the steel structure is expressed in an array of simple portal frames, with recycled newspaper acoustic board forming internal wall and roof surfaces. The garage space is calm and gallery-like, while the workshop space presents a tougher, taller workshop, surrounded with concrete wainscoQng and designed to accommodate a car liU.
The building’s ‘long-life/loose-fit’ ambitions have meant that the insulation and energy performance exceed residential standards. Although thermostats are currently turned down for its current use, the building includes underfloor hea+ng powered by an Air Source Heat Pump, as well as additonal first fix services hidden behind the internal wall paneling for future conversion.
Construc+on started in November 2020 and was completed at the end of 2021, with the project affected by the global pandemic and building material inflation. Despite these challenges, and the inclusion of some one-off expensive items (such as the electric garage doors), the Autobarn was built for under £2,300 /m2. In tandem with high energy performance and the use of natural materials, it combines our studio’s goal to combine beauty, affordability, and sustainability.