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OEB Architects have gained consent for the conversion and extension of a vacant church hall building in Tunbridge Wells into four characterful dwellings, working with small sites developer Arrant Land to envisage a highly pragmatic adaptive reuse that minimises demolition.


The team engaged closely and collaboratively with planning and conservation officers to establish a sensitive scheme that respects the scale and appearance of the surrounding streets, while preserving the historic ‘gothic’ character of the hall building itself.


A pair of 2-bedroom houses are created in the former hall, in an upside-down layout with lofty living space upstairs extending up into the pitched roof.   An existing single storey wing to the East of the hall is raised by two additional storeys to accommodate two 3-bedroom houses, matching the height of the neighbouring terrace.   Each of the houses is designed with a a dedicated study for working at home - either at the ground floor overlooking the street, or as north-facing loft rooms with high level clerestory glazing that limits overlooking to surrounding gardens.


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The front elevation to the street is calmly ordered, with aligned openings set within pale render in observance of the town’s prevailing Georgian stucco.  On the gable facade of the hall existing elements such as lancet windows are reinterpreted to suit the residential use, integrated within a composition of openings including the ground floor recessed entrance.

At the rear the houses depart from the formality of the street, taking on a more unruly character typical of the backs of terraces where alterations and adjustments accumulate over time.  The windows are of irregular scale and arrangement, within a rougher, earthier render, closer to the tone of the brickwork of the rear of the hall. A pared back version of the fenestration at the front gives access onto external patios from the hall’s rear gable, while the side wing houses have glazed living spaces stepping out into their gardens.


The project prioritises retaining as much of the existing high-carbon fabric as possible, both out of  a concern for minimising loss of embodied energy on site, and as a pragmatic measure - new spaces are simply organised within and around the position of existing solid brickwork walls, with the occasional additional opening made.  The new extensions are proposed to be predominantly lightweight timber frame construction, using natural insulation and render for a breathable build up that offers a healthy internal environment, alongside low embodied carbon and avoidance of petrochemical based materials.


The hall had a life serving the congregation of the local parish church, followed by 40 years as the gymnasium for the local primary school.  Now that the school has relocated, the building will be repurposed to provide new homes in a highly sustainable central location.

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