A contemporary windmill conversion and reconstruction of a derelict windmill stump to provide unique tourist accommodation. Nestled in Suffolk’s beautiful countryside, The Windmill Suffolk is located just 2 miles from historic Lavenham and provides stunning panoramic views across the rolling Suffolk landscape from the newly constructed zinc and cross-laminated timber pod. Having previously lost its cap & sails the project looked to reinstate its former landmark status as a prominent feature of the Suffolk landscape using an innovative and contemporary design approach.
The completed structure now provides unique holiday accommodation with panoramic views of the Suffolk landscape via the 4th storey pod and balcony and spiralling glazed openings. The design objectives were to reinstate the lost cap structure and restore the redundant and crumbling windmill to its former landmark status via contemporary design interventions. Due to its former function, the windmill commands a lofty position and was once a prominent feature of the landscape however, the loss of its cap and sails meant the structure remained only as a disused stump for many decades before the current owners took on the challenge of reinventing its function and restoring its contribution as a local landmark. The buildings setting is adjacent the established historic wool town tourism areas of Lavenham & Long Melford, the building is now able to once again stand proud as a unique feature of the landscape and contribute to the overall tourist offer of this historic area. It provides a unique vantage point as well as demonstrating the historic industry of the area. It provides a high quality much needed holiday let unit to support the tourist facilities in the nearby towns.
Originally built in 1891 the stump was comprised of solid brick conical walls with tar coating, which provided not a single straight line in which to insert the new accommodation and structural features. The biggest design challenge however was the reinstatement of the cap or ‘pod’ which was not intended as a faithful historic reconstruction but rather as contemporary and innovative interpretation which would also serve as the principal living and viewing platform; a form which would compliment the mill but also provide local distinctiveness and as a landmark of its renovation. The design solution sought inspiration from traditional boat building used for historical caps and mimicked an inverted boat structure with ribbed timbers providing the structural skeleton. The innovation was the use of Kerto cross-laminated ply ribs, which were able to provide the strength and stability required to resist the wind loadings as well as providing a multi-curving form capable of creating something sculptural and elegant. This approach also allowed off-site construction of the principal structure, which reduced the programme and provided safer working conditions.
The pod covering is a standing seam Zinc system skilfully and painstakingly applied by patient craftsman with every seam bespoke to the multi-curving form. The use of zinc allows a robust and low maintenance solution as well as contributing to the sculptural effect. The Kerto was precisely machine cut from sheets of stressed ply with each rib bespoke and individually drawn to form the unique shape. This engineering achievement is clearly expressed on the inside of the pod along with the panelling also in ply, which mimics historical mill boards as well as providing structural bracing to the ‘shell’ of the building. The pod was not only built to add back the lost cap but was also an opportunity to form a crows nest viewing gallery and additional living accommodation at high level exploiting the fantastic panoramic views, sunrise and sunset and also an external private space to relax.
In order to facilitate circulation each floor is rotated from the one below to accommodate an access point via landing from the radial staircase that flows around the inside of the mill. This minimised circulation and maximised usable space for the occupier.
The designers, Beech Architects Ltd, also worked closely with the insulated render manufacturer to find a bespoke solution to the insulation and weather-proofing of the existing structure of heavily spalled uninsulated brickwork. Bespoke tapered insulation panels were applied externally to visually retain the brick within the accommodation, protect the soft brick from further erosion and exploit the thermal mass of the structure for heating and thermal comfort purposes. Small projecting zinc covered extensions then slice into the mill at ground level to provide glazed openings to access gardens and to identify the new entrance providing porch and access. Each element of furniture and fittings are bespoke to reflect the curving layout and provide a luxurious experience for the end user.
The design of the mill and its renovation has been extremely well received locally. The project recently featured on BBC radio Suffolk (Lesley Dolphin show: 26.01.17) after several listeners noted the project as contributing positively to the local landscape with many observers intrigued and pleased by the contemporary design approach.
The whole project team are pleased to be part of the continued life of the landmark structure, which would otherwise have remained derelict without significant investment and potentially a piece of history would have been lost. The renovation has saved this historical landmark for further generations to enjoy, added some high quality tourist accommodation and created a piece of contemporary architecture which contributes positively in design and economic terms to the local area.
The project procurement was as a self build project managed by the site owner using specialist sub-contractors & suppliers with the funding being entirely privately financed.