JCA Team: Director - Peter Cave Principal Architect - Nigel Hammett Technician - Adrian Dadswell
Project Design Team: Johnston Cave Associates Principal contractor: Deeprose
Project type: Repair to fire devastated house
Project year: 2002-2005
The cry for help came in April 2002.
A fire had broken out in the roof space of our client’s Grade II listed house and had ripped through most of the main roof and destroyed many of the internal floors and a great deal of the internal fabric.
What the fire hadn’t destroyed and the Fire Brigade drenched, was now open to the elements. It was essential rapid action be taken to save what was left.
A temporary roof was quickly erected and emergency repair work was undertaken by us while insurance and planning matters were resolved.
Understandably our devastated client wanted his house back as soon as possible and so we prepared a schedule of works which allowed him to move back in while proper conservation based repairs were undertaken to what was left of the historic fabric. Due to the extensive devastation, we undertook considerable archaeological based research of the building which paid dividends later and then set out methods to ensure finishes were in the correct position. Most of the decorative plasterwork and cornices for example were lost, but fragments of the originals were salvaged and local craftsmen were engaged to make new matching fibrous plaster replacements.
Thankfully most of the existing stonework survived as there was no source for replacement material. Missing sections were consolidated on a stone-by-stone basis and built out with lime based materials. We also ensured that proper conservation techniques were used to make sure building movement and settlement could be accommodated in the new works.
With a project of this type there is always a fine balance between exact reinstatement of the past in terms of methods, materials and construction techniques and making use of knowledge gained across the centuries to improve what can be improved - without changing the authenticity.
The roof for example, was deemed by the planners not to require improved water shedding and they refused to allow the reconstructed chimney stacks to be made damp-proof. They also resisted attempts to remove rotten timber from the water logged fabric.
From this entrenched position, it was not only remarkable that we were able to gain approval to do the enhanced repairs we deemed not just necessary but desirable for longevity, but also to fulfil our clients’ desire to remodel the interiors to suit his extended family. Furthermore we won permission to add a natural light source to what had been a dark main staircase. This meant crafting a light well through the roof to the staircase ceiling and fitting it with a lay-light which we enhanced with decorative plasterwork using oaken leaf and acorn motifs drawn from the original plasterwork. The effect was another example of being able to rejuvenate the building while retaining its authentic heritage.
We were able to recreate lost interiors using the archaeological evidence, but many of the elements had to be put back as new work. Thankfully the loss adjuster understood that for the end result to be successful, a number of contractors with a range of specialist skills would be required and far more that would normally be found within a single contractor for keenly tendered works.
The decision to use conservation methods and the appropriate team of specialists was the direct result of our experience of conservation architecture and sensing when a project or works in hand need to be adjusted to respect a historic building.
From a cry of despair eventually came a cry of delight as our happy client saw his devastated building come back to life. The final result is no modern pastiche, though it does use modern materials and techniques where appropriate, nor is it a blind homage to the past. What was achieved was the genuine saving of a Grade II building when all could have easily been lost to the the elements or to inappropriate, careless or insensitive architecture and building techniques.